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Fingernails 101: What Do Your Nails Say About You?

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Like other parts of the body, especially skin and hair, fingernails can reflect what’s going on with us inside and out. According to the Mayo Clinic, fingernails can “reveal clues to your general health.” Learning a little about fingernail health can help you interpret what your nails may be telling you—whether you should call your doctor, or, more likely, file and forget about it.

First, don’t panic if your nails sport ridges running from the tip to the base. These ridges are common and harmless. Similarly, there’s no need to worry if your fingernails occasionally have white spots. Think of these as little bruises, either to your nail bed, the skin under the nail, or to the nail plate, the main part of your fingernail. They will eventually grow out.

Yellow nails can sometimes indicate a problem. Yellow nail syndrome, reports the Mayo Clinic, results when growth slows and nails thicken. People with chronic respiratory problems, such as long-term bronchitis, and people with lymphedema, or chronic swelling, can have yellow nails. The condition can also happen when nail growth slows for other reasons, such as aging.

Nail clubbing is a condition with a distinctive look. The fingertips and fingernails widen, and the nails tend to curve around the tips of the fingers. Stemming from low oxygen levels in the blood, clubbing can point to lung disease. The condition is also common in those who suffer liver and bowel disease.

Another condition that could be cause for concern is what the Mayo Clinic terms “spoon nails.” These are fingernails that curve up on the sides and look depressed in the middle. Spoon nails can indicate iron deficiency.

“Terry’s nails” is an abnormal nail coloring first reported by Dr. R. Terry in 1954. People with this condition have nail plates that are more opaque or whitish than usual with a band of color, pink or tan, near the tip. Sometimes Terry’s nails is simply a condition that comes with aging. But according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, Terry’s nails can also be a sign of heart failure, kidney failure, cirrhosis of the liver and other serious diseases.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.