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What causes nail problem? 11 possible conditions

Healthy Hands and Nails

Unless you live in a warm climate, it’s likely that your hands are the only skin on your body that remains exposed all year long: it’s important to keep them healthy.

Nail Composition and Growth

Along with the skin and hair, nails make up the body’s integumentary system. This is the organ system that protects the rest of your body from damage. The fingernails are composed of a tight mesh of structural proteins called keratins. A cell matrix beneath the base of the nail generates epithelial cells that become hard and platelike, or keratinized, as the nail grows.

The part of the nail you can see is called the nail body. The milky-white crescent of tissue at the base of the nail body, the lunula, indicates new nail growth. This growth occurs at the rate of 0.5 mm per month (1 mm is about the thickness of a dime). The cuticle protects against infection of the tissues that surround the nail. Such an infection is called paronychia and is caused by bacteria or fungus.

The nail bed is the pinkish area (in light-skinned people) or dark area (in people of color) beneath the fingernail. Trauma to the nail can cause it to detach from the nail bed. This condition is called onycholysis.

As we age, the nails become flatter and more brittle. The lunula becomes less noticeable. The blood supply to the vessel-rich nail bed decreases. Nail growth slows, making it more difficult to treat fungal infection, or onychomycosis. Such infections may become more frequent as general health declines.

Potential Nail Problems

Changes in the appearance of fingernails are often a good indicator of our general health. Vertical ridges and white spots are normal.

Grooves or depressions across the nail have many causes, some of which are of serious concern, so this condition should be evaluated by a doctor. Tiny pits in the nails can be a sign of nutritional deficiency. Clubbing of the nails—when there is a broadened fingertip and a rounded nail—can be a sign of lung, heart, liver, or inflammatory bowel disease.

Bluish nails indicate a lack of oxygen in the blood. This can be caused by conditions such as chronic obstructive lung disease, and should be investigated by a physician right away. Dark red or brown vertical lines are known as splinter hemorrhages. These can be a sign of infection of the heart valves. Speak to a doctor if you have these symptoms.

Nail splitting occurs when the layers of the nail separate horizontally at the edge of the nail. This condition is common among people who wash their hands frequently, such as cooks and nurses. Nutritional factors and medications can also contribute to brittle nails.

Cut your nails straight across to keep them healthy. Never bite your nails.

If you use nail polish and nail polish remover, avoid dibutyl phthalate (DBP), formaldehyde, and toluene. While all of these chemicals are legal and considered safe up to certain exposure limits, they can all be hazardous under certain conditions. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), DBP has caused neurological toxicity in workers exposed to high concentrations of it over extended periods of time. It may also cause menstrual irregularities and pregnancy complications. Toluene is harmful if inhaled or absorbed through the skin, or if it comes into contact with the eyes. OSHA reports that formaldehyde can be “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”

Hand Care

Hand rejuvenation is becoming a popular option for those who can afford more than a weekly manicure. A new use for dermal fillers is to give a fleshier look to bony hands. Wrinkles and age spots on the hands can be removed with dermabrasion, laser treatments, or prescription-fade creams.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.


Fungal Nail Infection

A fungal nail infection, also known as onychomycosis or tinea unguium, happens when a fungus that's normally in your finger- or toenails overgrows.

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Lichen Planus

Lichen planus is a fairly common skin rash that is thought to be triggered by the immune system. It causes lesions in the mouth that may be painful or burn.

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Lung Cancer Overview

Lung cancer is a cancer that originates in the lungs. Lung cancer often goes undetected in the early stages, since symptoms don't usually present themselves until the advanced stages of the disease.

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Asbestosis is a lung disease that develops from the presence of asbestos fibers, which lead to scarring. It restricts your breathing and interferes with the ability of oxygen to enter the bloodstream. Other names fo...

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Psoriasis Overview

Psoriasis is a chronic, noncontagious skin disease characterized by red patches of skin often accompanied by silvery-white scales of dead skin cells. It may occur anywhere on the body.

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Infective Endocarditis

Infective endocarditis is an infection of the heart, normally caused by bacteria in the blood stream. It is a serious medical condition. If left untreated, the infection can damage your heart and may even cause death.

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Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is the progressive and irreversible destruction of the kidneys. The most common causes of CKD are high blood pressure and diabetes.

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Small Cell Lung Cancer

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common kind of lung cancer, comprising 85 to 90 percent of lung cancer diagnoses. It does not grow as quickly as the other type of lung cancer, small cell lung cancer.

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Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common type of lung cancer. Swelling of the face is one potential sign of lung cancer.

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Polycystic Kidney Disease

Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is an inherited kidney disorder that causes fluid-filled cysts to form in the kidneys. Abdominal and back pain, easy bruising, and fatigue are possible signs.

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This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Meningococcemia is a bacterial blood infection caused by the same type of bacteria that causes some types of meningitis. Advanced symptoms of the infection include blood clots and bleeding under the skin.

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.