By Alexa Lardieri U.S. Deputy Health Editor Dailymail.Com
17:26 18 Dec 2023, updated 18:49 18 Dec 2023
- Fingernails can reveal a range of important health information
- White lines and blue spots could signal serious health problems
- READ MORE: Long nails loved by Cardi B could be harboring bacteria and fungi
A cancer patient grew concerned when he began to develop unexplained white lines across his fingernails.
The 30-year-old man said the horizontal lines across his nail beds appeared around the same time he was diagnosed with lymphoma and about halfway through this chemotherapy protocol.
After his doctors performed a physical exam, they worked out the six lines on each nail corresponded to each of the patient’s six chemotherapy treatments.
The man was diagnosed with transverse leukonychia — also known as Mees’ lines, a benign condition that causes nail lines and a side effect of some chemotherapy drugs.
While the patient’s nail changes turned out to be harmless, marks, bruises and lines in the finger nails can actually be signs of cancer itself.
Fingernails are mostly made up of a hardened protein called keratin – the same protein found in claws and horns of animals. Keratin is also found in human hair and skin.
Nail changes are a common side effect of chemotherapy, dubbed ‘chemo nails,’ because some medications interrupt the proper function of the group of cells responsible for making new nails.
These changes occur in about 40 percent of patients.
This is similar to the effect chemotherapy has on hair, with some drugs causing chemo patients to become bald because the medications mess with rapidly growing cells, damaging hair follicles, which leads to hair loss.
The patient’s nails returned to normal less than a year later and the case was detailed in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Whether it’s a sign of heart issues, arthritis or circulation problems, the fingernails can reveal a range of important health information.
Dr Shari Lipner, a dermatologist from Cornell University in New York City, has previously told DailyMail.com nails can be a ‘canary in the coalmine’ for a severe issue in the body.
She said: ‘It is essential for people to self-examine their nails about once a month, in addition to relying on dermatologists.’
In addition to horizontal lines, vertical lines – known as subungual melanoma – can also appear on fingernails. These lines are benign and are a natural sign of aging.
But they could also signal too much handwashing or over-use of hand sanitizer.
While people got into the habit of excessive hand washing and using sanitizer multiple times per day during the Covid-19 pandemic, overdoing it can cause excessive skin dryness and remove healthy oils and bacteria that protect against infection, leaving your hands vulnerable to infection.
In rare cases, your fingernails could even indicate cancer. That seemingly innocuous blue or purple spot under your nail may not be an insignificant bruise.
Skin cancer can occur under the nails, creating a black or dark-colored spot that does not go away.
While a bruise from getting your finger stuck in a door jam will disappear as your nail grows out, a skin cancer spot will not dissipate and normal-appearing nail color will not eventually show through.
Skin cancer under the nail, called subungual melanoma, is extremely rare and highly treatable if caught early.
When red streaks appear on fingernails, a close eye should be kept on them. These discolorations can be due to a bruise or trauma to the nail, but they can also be early warning signs of a life-threatening infection of the heart called bacterial endocarditis, where microorganisms infect the heart valves.
This occurs when bacteria or other germs enter the bloodstream and travel to the heart.
Dr Lipner has told DailyMail.com if the condition goes untreated it ‘is not uncommon for the nails to be the first clue.’
Also a warning sign of a possible heart problem – clubbed nails.
Doctors warn that having clubbed fingernails could be due to a lack of oxygen in the blood or problems with circulation. Both of these could be a warning sign that the heart and lungs are not functioning properly.
This could cause blood collecting in the tips of extremities, leading the nails to curve over the sides of fingers, creating a clubbed-like appearance.
Suffering from brittle or breaking nails? You may want to look at what you’re eating. A poor diet could lead to a deficit in the body’s supply or iron, which can cause nails to become ridged and brittle, increasing the likelihood they will split, peel or chip.
To avoid this, doctors recommend a well-rounded diet full of nutrient-rich foods.
To keep a proactive eye on nail health, when going for your doctor-recommended yearly skin check, removing polish from your nails will help your dermatologist examine them for any warning signs.
Periodic self examination of fingernails is also doctor-recommended.
Sarah Carter is a health and wellness expert residing in the UK. With a background in healthcare, she offers evidence-based advice on fitness, nutrition, and mental well-being, promoting healthier living for readers.