What Do My Nails Say About My Health?

Your fingernails are made up of a strong protein called keratin. If you look closely, you may notice ridges running up from the cuticle to the top of the nail. These vertical nail ridges are normal and harmless, but some nail abnormalities may indicate an underlying health problem.

The following are some nail defects that may require a trip to the doctor.

Beau's lines

Beau's lines are indentations that run side-to-side across the nails. Beau's lines can be a sign of:
  • acute kidney disease
  • eczema
  • malnutrition
  • peripheral vascular disease
  • uncontrolled diabetes


With clubbing, the ends of your fingers or toes get larger, and the nail bed softens. This causes your nails to grow down and around the tips of your fingers or toes. The most common cause of clubbing is lung cancer. Other heart and lung conditions that reduce levels of oxygen in the blood may also cause clubbing.  


Koilonychia is a nail disorder that causes your nails to be concave or spoon-shaped. This disorder is most often associated with iron deficiency anemia but may also be a sign of kidney disease, heart disease or hypothyroidism.


Onycholysis is when the nail detaches from the nail bed. This painless condition has many causes. Having long fingernails or getting frequent manicures or pedicures can cause onycholysis, but it can also be a sign of psoriasis. If all the nails are affected, it can be a sign of iron deficiency or hyperthyroidism. 


Onychomycosis is a nail fungul infection and the most common nail complaint I hear from patients. It most commonly occurs in the toenails, and can cause whitening or yellowing of the nail, as well as thickening/hardening, crumbling at the edge of the nail, or even separation from the nail bed. It can often be treated with an anti-fungal medication. 


Pitting occurs when there are pitted indentations or nicks on the nails. This is a common sign of psoriasis and alopecia areata (an autoimmune condition that causes sudden hair loss). 

Terry's nails

Terry's nails are nails that appear white except for a side-to-side band of pink at the tip of the nail. This nail condition is associated with many diseases, including:
  • chronic kidney disease
  • cirrhosis of the liver
  • congestive heart failure
  • Type 2 diabetes
See your primary care doctor or dermatologist if you notice abnormal changes in the color, shape or texture of your nails. He or she can help you learn if an underlying illness is the cause. Looking for a primary care physician? Schedule an appointment online with one of our doctors near you!

​Dr. Lawall graduated from the University of Dayton with a Bachelor of Science degree in pre-medicine and his Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. Following that, he completed his residency at The Christ Hospital and University of Cincinnati Family Medicine Residency.