Watch glass nails, swollen phalanx: heart and lung disease

Swollen phalanges cause the curvature of the nails to change. It therefore resembles a watch glass, with the nail appearing softer than usual. The fingers change shape and it results in a strange appearance of the hands. How are functioning problems of various organs underlying this and why is a medical check for watch glass nails necessary?

Watch glass nails

  • What are the symptoms?
  • What causes watch glass nails?
  • Underlying body conditions
  • Swollen first phalanx
  • Do you have it?


What are the symptoms?

The condition looks like an enlarged rounding of the finger end. The fingers themselves are thicker than normal, and there is also a special tension on the nails. The nail bulges more than normal, so to speak, and the cuticle appears to have disappeared. Moreover, it seems as if the skin and nails partly turn white, because there is less good blood circulation. The combination of broadened fingertips and white bulging nails gives a typical appearance similar to the broadened paw toe of some frogs. What causes this condition?

What causes watch glass nails?

The direct cause of thick limbs and fingers is the degree of blood supply and drainage. Blood has the property (via albumin) to retain and transport fluid. If the balance is disturbed, the discharge decreases. It can result in chronic ischemia, where blood vessels become blocked. There is no longer any blood flow locally. However, for proper functioning, sufficient oxygen-rich blood must be supplied. If the lungs or heart work less, the risk of insufficient supply increases rapidly, causing the limbs to react. Fluid is retained, which causes muscles to function less well and in this case the fingers come under tension.

Underlying body conditions

The condition is caused by less oxygenated blood, with the body prioritizing other organs and tissues. In other words, there is often a serious problem in other parts of the body, causing the limbs to receive less oxygen. It can be caused by diseases of the liver, heart and lungs. These are primarily responsible for the proper functioning of the entire body. However, it will usually be combined with a form of cancer or a serious organ abnormality. Think of:

  • pulmonary fibrosis in which the function of the alveoli is limited by increasing pressure from surrounding tissue. The absorption capacity of oxygen decreases, which means that high concentrations of carbon dioxide will be present. Accelerated fatigue, little oxygen, disability are the consequences;
  • lung cancer and heart cancer;
  • pachydermoperiostosis: swollen fingers with additional bone formation or drooping eyelid;
  • Crohn’s disease: chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract mucous membranes (weight loss, blood loss);
  • tuberculosis TB.


Swollen first phalanx

The first phalanges of the fingers are the final destination of blood. If the supply is limited due to previous conditions, it no longer receives oxygen-rich blood. It means that parts of the body start to react to the circumstance. Tissue can suffocate and swell. It manifests itself in the deformation of the first phalanx of the finger. If it occurs, it often affects all ten fingers, causing watch glass nails.

Do you have it?

You can quickly notice whether you have the condition. Place the same finger of the left and right hand with the nails tightly together. In normal circumstances, a small convex space should be created, where you can see between the nails (Schamroth test). If that space is not there, you will suffer from a reduced supply of oxygen-rich blood. If you have no further complaints, it is necessary to have your body checked medically. It may be due to a serious, potentially life-threatening condition.

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