17:40 03 August 2010
Whether you tend to them carefully, or abuse and bite them, our nails can tell us a great deal about what is going on with our body.
In fact, by looking for peculiar shapes and discoloration of our nails, we can diagnose everything from diabetes to lung cancer.
Here we run down the key symptoms on our nails and what they could mean for you:
Despite long-held belief, white spots on the nails is most likely nothing to do with calcium deficiency. It is simply caused by a minor injury to the root and will grow out with time.
Simply more than tarring from cigarettes, yellow discolouration in your fingernails with slightly darker patches around the edges could point to a lung condition such as chronic bronchitis.
However it can also be a sign of lymphoedema, a condition where there is an abnormal build-up of fluid in the body that causes swelling in the legs and arms, as well as pneumonia and even rheumatoid arthritis.
Blue nails are a sign that not enough oxygen is being pumped in the blood through our bodies.
This condition, known as cyanosis, can also be a warning sign for the early stages of heart failure.
Horizontal indentations, known as Beau's lines on our nails can point to hidden illnesses. They appear because the flow of oxygen to nail cells is temporarily interrupted.
While they often appear in heart attack or cancer patients, they can also signify undiagnosed conditions such as diabetes or
peripheral artery disease where blood vessels in the lower legs narrow
and become dangerously clogged.
Dome-shaped fingernails resembling clubs could be a warning sign of serious diseases such as lung cancer, and this is indeed one of the first things medical students are told to look for.
Caused by a build-up of a substance called PGE2 which helps keep down inflammation in the lungs, club-like nails occur when the lung tumours send production of PGE2 into overdrive, producing 10 times the amount the body needs. It then builds up in the tips of the fingers and causes swelling.
If your nails have a dip in the middle, opposed to the healthy and common convex nails which curve downwards like the surface of a ball, it could be a sign of iron deficiency.
This condition known as koilonychia or "spoon" nails and it is one of the first things doctors look for when a patient is experiencing tiredness and listlessness to determine if they are suffering from iron-deficiency anaemia and need to take supplements.
The surface of a healthy fingernail should be smooth but when it develops several small dents or becomes "pitted" it can be a warning sign that something is going on underneath.
Often the cause is psoriasis, the inflammatory autoimmune skin condition that can trigger red, scaly patches on the body. This is because the disorder affects nail cells as well as skin cells.
Once the skin patches are treated, the nails will heal too, although it will take several months for the dents to grow out.
While it's a pain when your prize nails break, it could point to something more sinister going on in the body.
Brittle nails can be a sign of an underactive thyroid, the gland which produces hormones to help regulate the bodys metabolism, as the nails are unable to retain moisture and start to crack.
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