Knowing your nails

June 1, 2011 10:00:00 PM PDT
Your nails can provide the first clues of serious health problems long before other, more noticeable symptoms.

Ruby LaMon does not mess around when it comes to her nails.

"I'm always concerned about how my nails look - especially my cuticles," said LaMon.

So when she noticed one nail was looking a bit off, she showed it to dermatologist Vesna Petronic-Rosic at the University of Chiciago Medical Center.

Many people are shocked to find out that their nails can reveal everything from stress levels to serious diseases.

"When something is wrong in your body or you are [malnourished], if you are ill, the first place your body will cut off to preserve nutrients are hair and nails," said Rosic.

Without adequate nutrition, nails will start to thin out and develop edges, and cuticles can become ragged and dry.

"So people who develop diseases or are under great stress will actually develop a break in the growth of the nail which is called the bose line."

Doctors measure where that line is in the growth of the nail.. And can estimate when something was off in the body.

Changes in nail color can be a sign of a more serious underlying disease.

For example, yellowish nails can signal lung problems; half-white, or mostly-white with a thick strip of red could be a sign of kidney disease. Thin, brittle nails can signal poor circulation or heart disease. Pale or white nail beds can signal anemia.

"You normally don't have color in your nail, but if you notice abnormal color on your nail or underneath of it, it can be a sign of something more serious, like cancer," said Dr. Oanh Lauring of Mercy Medical Center.

While dark, long, uniform bands are common among people with darker complexions, when melanoma is present, it often shows up as a pigment change at the cuticle. If your nails separate from the nail bed it could indicate the skin condition psoriasis.

"Many patients will develop psoriasis of the nails long before they develop psoriasis in other body parts," said Rosic.

Ruby LaMon learned her misshapen nail was the result of damage to her nail bed from the repeated use of artificial nails. Other than that Rosic says her nails are in excellent health.

"Nails are very, very telling - if you know what to look for," said Rosic.

Signs of nail trouble can vary. Any unusual change to the shape or color of a nail that does not go away within several weeks should be examined by a doctor.

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