Most of us do not tend to think or care much about our nails. Yes, we all trim and file them regularly to maintain them for aesthetic and hygienic reasons, but little do we know that our nails can be an indicator of various diseases which may have not surfaced in our body. Before we go on to discuss, some basics about nail care and the problems that nail can have, let us understand the basic anatomy or structure of our nails.
One of the most important and basic thing to know about nails is that nails are dead and hence there is no pain sensation when we cut them. Nail plate is the flat surface of the nails that we paint or buff. This surface is made of keratin which is the protein which is found in hair also. The white tip of the nails is also known as distal edge. The part of the nails which has sensation is the matrix and the skin that protects the matrix is known as the cuticle. The white half turned shape that we see inside the nails is known as lunula. Generally, the type of nails a person has, and the shape and width of the nails is decided by the genetics.
Our nails, to some extent can tell us about what is going on inside our bodies. This happens because diseases can affect internal organs and the blood flow to the nails. Also, diseases can affect the shape or the growth rate of your nails. Therefore it is important that you keep an eye on any change in the condition of the nails as it may be an indication of an underlying condition. Taking care of your nails is not only important for your appearance but also for your health.
One of the most common diseases of nails is known as Koilonychia which is also known as “spoon nails”. This happens when the nails turn concave. Spoon nails can happen to people with anaemia or low blood oxygen. In men, the problem of iron deficiency could be due to gastrointestinal bleeding, which may further cause inflammatory bowel disease, stomach ulcers etc. Spoon nails are often also seen in people with thyroid disease and lupus.
The condition where the nails turn outward is known as clubbed nails. In some people clubbed nails may be congenital. But in cases where it acquired it could indicate the presence of some serious condition like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease which is a lung disease. Heart diseases may also cause the nails to club.
Psoriasis which is a chronic skin condition can cause pitting on the nails. Pitting causes very small depressions on the nail plate. Other symptoms of psoriasis include peeling skin, scaly patches, itchiness on the knees and elbows etc. Unfortunately if pitting is present in the nails it means psoriasis has become chronic and it can lead to further more serious health conditions known as psoriatic arthritis.
Sometimes we can observe ridges and bumpy grooves on the nails. The reason for these ridges or grooves which are also known as beau’s lines can be both physical and mental. Stress due to a life changing event or a chronic illness may cause the matrix to cease. This stops the generation of new cells which are important for the growth of the cells. However these grooves will grow out with the nails. But apart from stress the beau’s lines can occur due to increased diabetes or problems in blood circulation.
Onycholysis is the condition in which the nail lifts and breaks off the nail bed. It can cause a lot of pain. This condition could occur due to problems with blood circulation or over-activity of thyroid gland.
Fungal nail infection is the most commonly occurring problem with the nails. It is so common infact that many people tend to associate any problems with nails with fungal infection only. When nails break due to fungal infection they turn either yellow or green. Most fungal infections do not enter the blood. But like most other nail conditions; they could signal an underlying problem.
Many people observe white spots on their nails. White spots can occur due to true leuconychia which can happen due to nail injury or infection. The shape and types of white spots on the nails could indicate different types of diseases. It is beast to see a dermatologist who will run blood tests if required to check for actual problem.
Who knew nails could tell us so much about what is happening inside our body? It is very important, therefore, to keep an eye on the health and the condition of the nails and any abnormality should be discussed with a doctor. Taking good care of the nails is important not only to maintain their beauty but also our overall health.