The state of your nails can reveal a lot about you: whether they’re groomed or grubby; long and blingy or short and practical; plain or colourful – it all says something about you. But the state of your nails isn’t just revealing of your personality, it can say something about your health too – so if you are a perpetual wearer of nail colour, it is a good idea to allow a few days of unvarnished nails, not only so that they can breathe but so that you can keep an eye on any other changes in your nails. Fingernails grow at the rate of about two or three millimetres a month, and toenails at about half that rate; it takes about six months to grow all the way out from the base of the nail to the top.
Here are some health issues that can be revealed by your nails:
Very pale or white can indicate lack of iron or anaemia. It can also be a sign of early diabetes or liver disease, both of which can impair the flow of blood.
Mostly white with darker edges can be indicative of liver problems.
Dark red nails can show a high content of fatty acids and cholesterol.
White spots can either be as a result of an injury to the nail bed (the part under your nail) or more seriously, as a result of a high sugar content in your blood. It can also indicate a lack of zinc.
Blue-tinged nails can result from a lack of oxygen reaching the nail bed and so can show lung disorders such as emphysema, asthma or pneumonia.
Yellowish nails especially with a slight blush of red at the base can indicate diabetes.
Red lines underneath the nail should be checked immediately – they can be as a result of melanoma, the most serious kind of cancer – and one that advances alarmingly quickly. Here’s a tip: if you are going to a dermatologist to have your skin checked for any signs of sun damage or skin cancer, make sure your nails are free from nail polish so that the doctor can see your nails clearly.
Horizontal ridges can show high levels of stress.
Vertical ridges suggest a congested liver.
Pitted or rippled nail surface can show psoriasis or inflammatory arthritis.
Cracked or splitting nails, or a nail lifting off from the nail bed can show up when your thyroid is out of whack.
Gnawed nails and picked skin might just be a bit of a nervous habit – or a sign of high anxiety or even obsessive compulsive disorder. If you can’t stop picking at your nails, it is worth chatting to your doctor about it.
But having said all of this, changes to your nails are unlikely to be the first indication that something is wrong with your health. If you have emphysema, for example, the first sign is more likely to be difficulty breathing, rather than blueish nails. If your nails are a touch yellow, is it because you have been wearing nail polish for too long – or even have a fungal disease – rather than because you have diabetes? But as with all things health related: when in doubt, see your doctor.
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