Nail problems: recognize an underlying disease

If you suffer from nail problems, such as white, blue, yellow or crumbly nails, it may be an indication that there is an underlying disease. If you learn how to read nails, in some cases you can quickly detect a disease. Nail disease is usually harmless. Not all brittle nails mean thyroid problems, but it can also be caused by cleaning products. What nail disorders are there and what does it mean?

Abnormalities of the nails

Nails can say a lot about your health. Although usually quite harmless, some nail problems can indicate an underlying disease. By knowing what a certain abnormality could mean, you can identify certain diseases and intervene in time. For example, 10% of people with the skin condition psoriasis start with ribbed nails. But brittle nails don’t always mean an underlying disease: it can be caused by a lot of exposure to a cleaning product.

Chipped nails, split nails or brittle nails

Complaints that the nails are very dry and brittle and that they quickly chip or break off may be a sign of a thyroid disorder. If the nails are brittle and have a yellowish color, there may be a fungal infection, also called nail fungus. If you are frequently exposed to water or cleaning products, it is obvious that this is the cause of the complaints. Cleaning products can be very aggressive and cause very dry nails, which can lead to brittle nails or even chipped nails.

Ribbed nails

If you suffer from ridged or pitted nails, it may be a sign of the skin condition psoriasis or joint inflammation (arthritis). If this is the case, you will often see a reddish-brown discoloration. In approximately 10% of people, psoriasis starts in the nails. It is therefore not the other way around that 10% of people with ribbed nails have psoriasis. Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition in which there is severe flaking of skin cells. In this condition the immune system is disrupted.

Pale or white nails

This condition can develop as we get older. The nails become paler and sometimes even white. If it has nothing to do with aging, it can indicate: liver disease, anemia, heart failure and malnutrition. If the change from pale nails continues all the way to the appearance of white nails, it is wise to go to the doctor.

White nails with dark edges

If your nails are almost completely white, with dark edges at the top, it may be an indication of a liver disease, such as hepatitis. Jaundice is often accompanied by liver problems, there may be a yellowish discoloration of the fingers. This yellow color is especially visible in the whites of the eyes, which also turn yellow in the case of jaundice. Because liver disease is serious, it is advisable to go to the doctor as soon as possible if you suspect it.

Yellow nails

Usually when there is a condition, it is a fungal infection. If the infection continues, the nail bed may recede and the nails may become thick and brittle. What is less common is that the yellow color indicates lung disease, diabetes, psoriasis or a thyroid disorder. Heavy smokers regularly suffer from yellowish nails, but this is due to holding the cigarette and has nothing to do with the nails themselves.

Bluish nails

Blue-colored nails can be a sign of oxygen deficiency. There may be pneumonia. If there is a very slight tinge, it could be a case of diabetes. If there is only one blue nail, the cause is usually a bruise. This manifests itself as a bruise under the nail. This can be painful, but will go away on its own. People who suffer from Raynaud’s condition (a condition in which blood vessels react violently to cold, causing fingers and toes to turn white) may also experience blue nails. This is short-lived and will disappear when the person has warm hands and feet again.

Bitten nails

Nail biting is usually nothing more than an annoying habit. If you cannot stop biting your nails, you may have obsessive-compulsive disorder. The result can be that the nails are bitten far too deeply, and this can lead to torn nails or split nails. If you are unable to stop biting your nails, consult a doctor.

Stiffened nail edge

If the skin around the nail is swollen, painful and red, there is often an inflammation of the nail edge. It is a harmless condition that usually goes away on its own. In a rare number of cases, a swollen nail edge can indicate a serious condition, such as the skin disease lupus (an autoimmune connective tissue disease that manifests itself in skin conditions, among other things). If an inflamed nail edge hurts the nails and does not go away on its own, go to the doctor.

Dark lines under the nail

Be alert in case dark bands appear under the nail, as in some cases this can be caused by skin cancer. It does not have to be serious, but because it can be serious, it is advisable to see a doctor as soon as possible.

Ingrown nails

It is one of the most common nail problems. An ingrown toenail usually occurs on the big toe. The causes have not yet been adequately investigated, but tight shoes appear to be a cause of this problem. Usually it is quite harmless and can be kept up by properly trimming the edges of the nails. In some cases it can be very painful and inflammation can occur. This can then cause whitlow, which is a form of inflammation that can damage the bone.

When to go to the doctor?

In most cases, you do not have to worry immediately if there are nail problems, with the exception of the dark lines under the nail. If a particular problem persists for a long time and self-care does not help, or you are concerned, you can always make an appointment with your GP or ask for a referral to a dermatologist.

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