THICK, thin, short or long – our fingernails come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.
And if yours start to change in appearance, it could be a health red flag to take notice of.
The nails are a relatively insignificant body part.
But they are in fact a treasure trove of information; they can trigger a diagnosis from vitamin deficiencies to skin conditions and chronic illness (even cancer).
Yellowing of the nails may simply be a result of wearing nail varnish for too long.
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But look out for other changes around the nail, for discolouration in the nail could be an early warning sign of a thyroid disease.
The thyroid, a gland that sits inside the neck, triggers the production of a number of hormones that are needed for various aspects of health.
When it is underactive, it causes fatigue, cold sensitivity, constipation, dry skin and weight gain.
When it is overactive, a person may experience weight loss, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, tiredness and sensitivity to heat.
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Thyroid issues can cause the nails to appear thick, dry and brittle, or soft, shiny and crumbly, the American Academy of Dermatology Association says.
It reports: “A swollen fingertip, curved nail, and thickening skin above a nail are often signs of thyroid disease.”
Psoriasis may cause the skin underneath the nail to change colour – from yellow, to pink or brown – causing patches of discoloration on the nail.
A streak in the nail is one of the most dangerous warning signs.
It can indicate subungual melanoma, which is skin cancer underneath the nails. It can affect both toes and fingers and it is particularly difficult to detect and treat early.
People may wrongly believe they just have bruising of the nail, or not even notice a change at all.
The nail may have a black or brown streak, separate from the nail bed, bleed, thin or crack, or have a bruise that doesn’t go away despite the nail growing.
The skin around the nail may also darken.
Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, and is usually a result of exposure to UV rays (sunlight or tanning beds).
But most of the time, a dark streak is nothing to worry about.
It is also called melanonychia, which can naturally occur in African American, Hispanic, Indian, Japanese, and other dark-skinned races, WedMD reports.
Nail or finger clubbing can be the result of many conditions, like cystic fibrosis, heart disease, Crohn's, other cancers – or is hereditary.
But lung cancer is responsible for about 80 to 90 per cent of finger clubbing cases.
Finger clubbing is a symptom in more than 35 per cent of people with the deadly disease, according to Cancer Research UK.
The base of the nail becomes soft, and the skin next to the nail bed becomes shiny before the nails begin to curve more than normal. The ends of the fingers may be larger than usual.
There is an easy test to work out if you have finger clubbing with the following steps:
- Put the nails of your index fingers together, back-to-back.
- Look for a tiny diamond-shaped space between your cuticles, where the light is coming through.
- If there isn't space, and the nailbeds are touching, this is a sign of finger clubbing.
Pitting is the term for dents in the nail, ranging from the size of a needle pin to a crayon tip.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, there may be pitting in the nails, grooves or crumbling if someone develops psoriasis, a chronic skin condition.
The main signs of the condition is flaky and scaly skin on parts of the body such as the elbows, knees and scalp.
Two in 100 people in the UK are affected by psoriasis, making it relatively common, and most people get it over the age of 20 years old.
Around half of people with psoriasis develop it in the nails of the fingers and toes. Being over 40 years old, a male, and having a family history are risk factors of this form of the disease.
Beau’s lines are horizontal indentations, or ridges, that run straight across the nail.
These lines can simply be a result of picking at your nails, getting a bad manicure or shutting your finger in a door.
But if you have these lines across more than one nail, Healthline states that “the cause is likely a systemic illness” such as kidney or thyroid problems.
Infections that cause grooves in the nails include a high fever, Covid, mumbles, measles or pneumonia – but you’ll probably become aware of other symptoms before you spot changes in the nails.
Sometimes people who do not eat enough protein or zinc in their diet get Beau’s lines.
But it might just be a side effect of a condition someone has dealt with for a long time, such as eczema or psoriasis.
Yellow and thickened
Yellow and thickened nails are a sign of long-standing diabetes, but could potentially appear early on in the disease.
Bacteria and fungi flourish when a person's immune system and circulation are impaired, which is often the case with a diabetic.
People with diabetes are more likely than those without diabetes to get a fungal infection called onychomycosis, usually in the toenails.
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The four most common symptoms of type 2 diabetes are easy to remember, as they are '4 Ts' – more frequent toilet trips, thirst, tiredness, and getting thinner.
It’s important to get diabetes – which is high blood sugar – controlled as soon as possible to avoid a number of complications, some of which are life-threatening over time.
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