Changes in your fingernails may be an indication of a liver problem

It is often only when there is an obvious problem with our health that we look more closely at our bodies . . . and even then, it is sometimes more about the clothes, shoes or other accessories that we choose to put on our bodies rather than actually looking at the clues that our physical bodies are showing!

Your fingernails, if not covered up by acrylic nails or nailpolish, can reveal several details about your health – including the functionality of your liver.

Although fingernails are not made of living tissue (they are actually an accumulation of older cells composed of layers of the protein keratin) they still reflect the health of the living cells at the nail’s base.

Changes in texture, shape and nail colour can be a sign that there is a problem in your body’s cells, possibly even that there is a medical condition which needs looking into. Given that nails take a while to grow, nail changes that may indicate a health condition are rarely the first sign that there could be a problem.

Even though your fingernails show systemic health problems, there are also other things which may affect fingernails which are isolated issues, such as:

  • Fungal infection – this can cause local discolouration or inflammation.
  • Trauma – damaging the nail by things like slamming it in a door or hitting it with a hammer can cause white spots or lines to show up.
  • Temporary Stress – things such as serious injury or infection or even a high fever can temporarily halt nail growth. This happens because your body shifts its focus from the relatively low priority of growing nails to the more urgent needs in another part of your body. If this occurs, horizontal lines called Beau’s Lines may appear across your nails when they start to grow again but don’t worry . . . these lines will eventually grow out.
  • White Spots – ever noticed white spots on your nails? This indicates that you may have a zinc deficiency . . . a supplement would be helpful in this instance.

As I have mentioned above, there are some nail problems which might not be associated with actual systemic health problems however, things such as lasting changes to the colour, texture or shape of your nail should be discussed with your healthcare professional.

According to a report in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology (June 2010), people with liver cirrhosis and Hepatitis B and C frequently had visible nail changes.

In those who do have liver health concerns, the following fingernail appearances could signal a liver problem:

  • Clubbing – any sign of clubbing between the plate and nail fold can be a sign of decompensated liver disease (this is where the liver has sustained enough damage to have its function impaired).
  • Pale Nails – can be a sign of liver disease (your liver manufactures many of the blood’s proteins). Anaemia could also be indicated by pale fingernails – this could be a side effect of the medications which are used to treat Hepatitis C.
  • Muehrcke’s Lines – these are double white lines which run across the fingernail horizontally. These have been linked to low levels of albumin, an important protein component of blood which is made in the liver.
  • Terry’s Nails – this condition is marked by the tip of each nail having a dark band. This is also potentially due to the liver’s impairment in producing albumin.

There is no need to panic! If, however, you have any of the above nail issues, it could be time to discuss with your doctor or healthcare professional.

Remember that odd shapes, paleness and lines on your nails can be associated with many other things than liver disease – there are many other valid explanations for changes in your nails. The more that we pay attention to our body and the physical signs it may be giving us, the quicker we can either do something about it or stop stressing unnecessarily.

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