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Discolored Fingernails and Toenails

Updated on August 24, 2014

Healthy nails are strong, smooth, and consist mainly of keratin proteins. The natural color of the nail is light pink - indicating a rich blood supply - but in some people it may be a little darker. Fingernails can tell us a lot about our health status. When changes occur in color, shape, or texture, that can be a sign of a health problem, but not necessarily a serious one. It can range between serious diseases such as cancer and heart disease or mild issues such as lack of vitamins and minerals. Either way, any change that occurs to your fingernails, provided that you are sure that this change is not caused by external factors such as slammed nails, requires immediate medical check.

But what cause our nails to change their colour?

Discoloration of fingernails could be a result of external and/or internal factors.

External factors this includes factors such as exposure to strong cleaning agents, frequent use of nail polish remover and nail sharpener, biting nails, rubbing of nails against rough surfaces, slammed nails, and extremely cold temperatures. This is not alarming and should not get you worried. Our focus in this article will be on the internal factors mainly.

Internal factors are numerous, such as use of certain drugs, diseases and conditions and nutritional deficiencies. This type of change is telling us that something in our body is not functioning right. This type of nail discoloration means that it is time to visit a doctor for a general check up. It should be noted that in most cases discoloration turns out to be a result of mild health problem. So when you notice a change in your nail color, don't panic.

  • If the fingernail color changes to yellow, it could be a is a sign of internal disease or condition, like lungs or liver problems.
  • A greenish nail color is a sign of infection.
  • Colorless nails most likely mean diabetes, stress, or allergies.
  • Bluish nails or bluish nail root warns of respiratory problems or diseases such as asthma.
  • White nails may indicate cardiovascular problems.

  • Dark blue line across the nail could be a warning of skin cancer.
  • Tiny black streaks may indicate heart problems.
  • Reddish-brown spots are often signs of lack of folic acid and vitamin C, or protein.
  • White lines across the nail most likely indicate high fever, liver or heart disease, kidney problems or lack of iron or zinc.
  • White spots on nails are a possible sign of zinc and iron deficiency, or it could be an allergic reaction to a certain products like nail polish.

Dark stripe under the nail is probably one of the most common nail discolorations. That is why I decided to stop here for a while. If you notice dark line under your nail, then it could indicate one of the two things:

1. Melanoma (skin cancer), but this is very rare and more common in people with pale skin;

2. Nail fungus, which is more common especially for people who attend swimming pools or who are exposed to water a lot.

Both cases require immediate medical attention but the second one is less alarming although it takes too long to heal (with antibiotics of course). Sometimes, diagnosis could take longer if lab tests are needed. Melanoma cannot be healed and the only treatment is by cutting the infected area. Sometimes they may need to cut the entire finger or toe, even more if melanoma spread far away from the nail.

The average nail growth is about one millimeter per week.

Recommendations for healthy nails

  • Eat iron-rich foods like red meat, grains, and leafy vegetables. Vitamin C also helps in the absorption of iron in the body. Avoid drinking teas and herbs with high concentrations of tannin, because tannin prevents the absorption of iron in the body.
  • The optimal intake of nutrients, vitamins and minerals will help in the recovery of cuticles.
  • Ensure adequate intake of quality protein, to strengthen your nails.
  • Eat plenty of foods rich in sulfur compounds such as broccoli, fish and onions
  • Avoid prolonged exposure to chemicals and water. They dry the skin and nails, and make them fragile and brittle.
  • Annual visit to the doctor for general tests and examination.

Would you visit a doctor immediately if you noticed nail discoloration?

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    • Hadzia profile image

      Hadzia 6 years ago from Belgium

      Very educative

    • profile image 6 years ago

      Interesting! I knew some things a nail could show. Now I am more informed. Thanks for educating me.