They grow around 0.5 to 1.2 millimeters per week: Often you don’t pay close attention to your fingernails – until you suddenly realize that they have changed. “Fingernails can say something about the state of health,” says Dr. Heiko Grimme, dermatologist in the skin center at the Kurpark in Stuttgart.
To do this, the changes must occur on all nails at the same time. “Many people go to the doctor because they notice changes on one or two nails,” says the expert. “Then they assume, for example, that they lack a vitamin or a trace element.” In such a case, however, all nails should be affected by the changes. If just one or two fingernails look different than usual, this indicates an injury to the nail bed rather than an illness. (Read the best tips for well-groomed fingernails here)
Cross grooves can indicate a serious illness
But fingernails can certainly serve as a kind of early warning system if something is wrong with the body. “Deformation or discoloration are typical,” says the expert. The most common changes in shape include transverse grooves. “They often indicate a serious illness.”
Most of the time you only notice the transverse grooves when they slowly grow out of the nail. “Some patients then report that they had a major operation, had a severe infection or had chemotherapy, for example,” says Grimme. In order for the transverse grooves to be meaningful, they must also appear on all nails – a single transverse groove can also have been caused by an injury. Taking nail growth into account, you can also roughly deduce when an illness occurred.
Longitudinal grooves run through every nail
Longitudinal grooves in the nails, on the other hand, say nothing about health. “Some people have very deep longitudinal grooves that can literally split the nail,” says Grimme. With increasing age, longitudinal grooves are often more pronounced. “Of course, the nail splinters very quickly,” says Grimme. Ultimately, however, almost every nail shows longitudinal grooves if you look at it closely.
Another type of deformation are so-called spoon nails. The fingernails are arched in a different direction than usual: if they are otherwise convex on the finger, they take on a concave shape. The nail plate lowers inwards while the edge protrudes upwards. “This can be genetic,” says Grimme. However, you should be aware if the deformation suddenly occurs: Then it can not only indicate an iron deficiency, but also, for example, a hormone disorder such as diabetes. (Also interesting: How to recognize iron deficiency)
White spots on the nails
Another type of deformation are so-called watch glass nails. The nail is excessively curved and appears almost round. “This change also occurs on all nails at the same time,” says the expert. It is not very common – but it can indicate diseases of the heart, lungs or liver that should be clarified.
In contrast, discoloration on the nails, which show up in the form of white spots, is less problematic. “These are mostly small air pockets in the nail,” says Grimme. They result from injuries to the nail bed, for example, when you pick at the cuticles or push them back. (No more chewing nails – that’s how it works)
Some discoloration should be clarified better
On the other hand, one should clarify brown longitudinal stripes that suddenly appear. “It happens quite often,” says Grimme. The trigger is often a birthmark that has formed on the nail root. In most cases this is harmless. Nevertheless, it is better to rule out that it is not a black skin cancer.
You should also be aware of yellowish discoloration that affects all nails: they can indicate lung diseases or lymphedema. Doctors also speak of the “Yellow Nail Syndrome”: The nails are not only discolored yellow, but are also remarkably thick. (Also read: Certain types of fruit and vegetables prevent cancer)
This helps when you have brittle nails
Many people also wonder what they can do about brittle nails. Only in rare cases is there a lack of nutrients – the problem often lies in care: Soap, for example, can make the nail tips brittle. People who have to wash their hands professionally often suffer from this.
Creams often do not help to make the nail firmer – they act far too short for this. However, putting olive oil in a bowl and keeping your fingertips in for a few minutes every day can help. In addition, nail clippers and scissors are often not good for the nails: care with a file is better.
Basically, if you notice any unusual changes to the nails – be it deformations, discoloration or if all nails suddenly become unusually brittle – you should ask a doctor for advice to rule out an illness. (Read more about men’s health here)