While many people realize the importance of their fingernails, they rarely understand exactly how important they really are. While nails can be used for a variety of purposes, ranging from aesthetics to opening packaging, they can also be used to diagnose different medical conditions. The actual color and appearance of the nail can be used to diagnose a variety of different conditions. Healthy nails should be strong, relatively flexible, and shiny. The nail bed should be pink, indicating a healthy supply of oxygen. However, not everyone has healthy nails, and it is important to learn the distinction between nail color and possible health issues.
Individuals with blue nails may be suffering from emphysema, lung disease, or a form of pulmonary obstruction. The blue coloration may be related to a high level of abnormal hemoglobin or the bodies’ inability to circulate oxygen in red blood cells. To discriminate these conditions from a localized disorder, the nails should be heated. If the coloring disappears then the discoloration is not global, but rather an issue near the nails. The individual nails may not be receiving adequate blood supply because of cold, tissue damage, or constriction. If the blue color persists, even after heating, then there may be some disorder affecting the delivery of oxygen via red blood cells. The presence of blue lines may indicate skin cancer.
White coloration on the nails indicates various possible disorders. White spots on the nails can arise from injuries to the nail bed or zinc or iron deficiency. Some white spots are perfectly normal, arising from use of nails and contact with the environment. White spots may also indicate poisoning from certain toxins, or arthritis. White nails may be an indication of liver or kidney disorders, or possibly a cause of anemia. White lines on the nail bed may also indicate a zinc or iron deficiency, as well as a possible protein deficiency. White under the nails, typically around the tip of the nails, may indicate fungal infection, and should be examined by a physician to determine treatment. Half white nails, generally accompanied by dark spots, can indicate the presence of kidney diseases.
Nails that are entirely black can indicate the presence of a B-12 deficiency, a chronic kidney disorder, liver disease, cancer or melanomas, adrenal gland problems, or anemia. The black discoloration may also result from different bacterial infections, or the deposits of certain metals, most notably silver. Severe trauma to the nail bed can also cause black discoloration of the nails. Black lines can indicate the presence of heart disease.
For the rest of this article, see More on the Body’s Natural Mood Ring: The Fingernail
Chris Gromisch is a Junior Chemistry major at Trinity College.