This Is What Those White Marks On Your Fingernails Really Mean

Mysterious marks on your fingernails? You won’t believe what they mean for your health.

February 3, 2017
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We all know those strange white marks on our fingernails, but few of us know what they mean. In fact, your fingernails can lend way more insight into the state of your body and health than you might realize. Here are what your fingernails can tell you.

1. Nail Beading

Likely caused by thyroid issues, hormonal changes, diabetes, or stress, this condition can be identified by “vertical beaded ridges resembling a candle’s wax drippings.”

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Not a fan of the way it looks? You have options. Medium-grit buffers can be used to help with smoothing these ridges.

Onychogryphosis

In general, onychogryphosis is characterized by “a thickening of the nail plate, with associated gross hyperkeratosis and increased curvature.” The surface is known to be irregular, and the most notable physical traits don’t actually manifest until later on. The disease is particularly “common on the great toenail of elderly patients,” and is seen as a result of many issues, such as: old age, peripheral circulation disorders, and self-neglect (which is likely why homelessness is another cause).

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Though these are only a few of the causes, with others including pressure that arises from “improper footwear,” or hallux valgus, when hereditary, this can affect every toenail and fingernail.

2. Terry’s nails

The best way to describe these is probably nails in reverse. Whereas typical nails are only white at the tip, Terry’s nails are mostly white, aside from the “narrow pink band at the tip.” While it can, in cases, be the result of aging, this can also be the result of diabetes or liver disease. It can even be a symptom of congestive heart failure or kidney failure, so just keep an eye on it.

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Terry’s nails, according to data, has “no relation with hypoaluminemia and anemia,” though when it comes to renal damage, the nails are visually affected first.

Pitted Nails

Onycholysis isn’t the only nail-related condition to stem from psoriasis. Pitting, also known as pitted nails, is another consequence linked to the skin condition.

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It’s not just a disease you can ignore either, as having pitting on top of psoriasis can increase your risk of something like psoriatic arthritis, “a painful joint inflammation.”

3. Beau’s lines

Multiple issues can serve as the explanation for Beau’s lines, which “are indentations that run across the nails,” and can be found “when growth at the area under the cuticle is interrupted by injury or severe illness.”

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Some of these issues which are linked to a high fever, include pneumonia, as well as measles, mumps, and scarlet fever—though the latter three are no longer particularly common in this day and age. Other possible conditions are peripheral vascular disease, uncontrolled diabetes, or an indication of zinc deficiency.

Spoon nails

Koilonychia, which, in lay terms, has been called spoon nails, can be distinctive in appearance. Unlike healthy nails, they aren’t hard and look as though they’ve been uplifted your fingers and turned outwards, or “scooped out.”

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This can signify multiple conditions such as heart disease, iron deficiency anemia, hypothyroidism, or even hemochromatosis—“a liver condition … in which your body absorbs too much iron from the food you eat.”

4. Onycholysis

Are your fingernails loose? Do they easily detach from your nail bed? If you answered yes to either of these questions and “the separated part of the nail becomes opaque with a white, yellow or green tinge,” then you should pay special attention to this part, because those are the symptoms of onycholysis.

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While the separated nails can be linked to an infection or an injury, that’s not always the circumstance. Sometimes it’s “a reaction to a particular drug or consumer product, such as nail hardeners or adhesives,” or it could also be linked to psoriasis or thyroid disease.

Though the process of the separation is regarded by the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD) as painless and relatively common, it’s noted that women, specifically those who have longer fingernails, are most susceptible.

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As it happens, this condition usually affects more than one nail, and a bacterial or yeast infection can begin to fester.

5. Yellow Nail Syndrome

Now, this is exactly what it sounds like, in terms of your nails being yellow, but there’s more to it than that. Not only will your nails be discolored, this will render them thicker and slow down their growth. As a matter of fact, that’s what causes them to turn yellow.

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In addition to these factors, yellow nail syndrome might result in a “lack [of] cuticle and detach from the nail bed in places,” sounds nice, right?

Respiratory disease—which could be chronic bronchitis, for instance—many times, is what leads to this condition. When your hands swell, which is part of something known as lymphedema, can also result in yellow nail syndrome.

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In some cases, this nail condition can be linked to “the accumulation of fluid in the membranes surrounding the lungs and lining the chest cavity (pleural effusion).” The syndrome doesn’t just affect the look of nails either, but people with it tend to have swollen legs and arms as well.

6. Splinter Hemorrhages

Splinter hemorrhages, which can also be referred to as fingernail hemorrhages, indicate bleeding, which occur underneath your nails.

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If you recently injured yourself and you notice “long, black, splinter-like lines” ( which “run in the direction of nail growth” ) in your nails following said injury, there’s probably nothing to worry about. It becomes a bit more serious though, when there wasn’t an injury and then, there is cause for concern.

According to Dr. Dana Stern, who specializes in nails and is also a dermatologist, “They could mean you have bacterial endocarditis, an infection of the valves and inner lining of the heart,” especially if you’ve recently undergone a procedure—this can be medical or dental—and you’d need to take antibiotics to clear it up.

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Other possible causes for splinter hemorrhages are lupus erythematosus, as well as antiphospholipid syndrome , or microemboli—this is when “tiny clots … damage the small capillaries.”

7. Clubbing

No, your nails aren’t heading off to party until three in the morning. If your nails are clubbed—think of a clubbed foot—it means that “the tips of the fingers enlarge and the nails curve around the fingertips.”

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Though this doesn’t usually just occur overnight, rather being a years long process, clubbing can actually signify an assortment of lung diseases, in addition to less oxygen in your blood than there should be.

You should know that it’s a symptom of some additional serious conditions, including, but not limited to, cardiovascular disease or an early indicator of AIDS . Liver disease and inflammatory bowel disease have also been cited as possible explanations for nail clubbing, as has hypertrophic osteoarthropathy.

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The latter is a condition which affects the bones and joints, which just so happens to be “characterized by clubbing of the fingers and toes, enlargement of the extremities, and painful and swollen joints.”

8. Blue nails

This “could indicate a life-threatening condition such as a heart attack or embolism.” While it isn’t always a sign of something quite so dangerous as those conditions, blue fingernails might denote that you’re near fainting or at least, lightheaded.

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You might also want to hold off from working out if your nails are not only blue but heart and lungs are negatively affected as it can be harmful in these “life-threatening cases.”

While Medline Plus notes that abnormal hemoglobin, heart disease, not enough “oxygen being pumped by the blood through the heart,” and lung disease all serve as potential causes for this blue discoloration, the causes are not limited to these.

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Additional reasons include, but are not limited to, asthma, pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and pulmonary hypertension. Raynaud’s syndrome, which, while “relatively harmless,” actually results in “[restricted] or [limited] blood supply, leaving behind a bluish color in the fingers.”

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