Pink, blue, orange — some people only pay enough attention to their toenails to pick a color of polish when they get a pedicure. But don’t be so quick to cover those toenails until you’ve had a good look at them. Like your hair and your fingernails, your toenails can tell you things about your internal health that could save your life.
If you notice your toenails are rounded on the top and curve downward, it might be a sign of clubbed toes. The underlying causes of clubbed toes include lung disease, liver disorders, digestive problems, heart disease and certain infectious diseases. However, without other symptoms — and especially if clubbed toes run in your family — you likely have nothing to worry about.
Red streaks indicate that you might have a heart infection. They’re caused by tiny blood clots damaging the veins that run under the toenail. People who have an existing heart condition — especially those with a pacemaker — are more at risk of infection of the heart. A red streak might also be a sign of trauma, but if you haven’t kicked anything or dropped something on an affected toe recently, check with your healthcare provider to rule out a heart condition.
When the nail’s growth is disrupted in the nail plate, it can cause pits that look like small puncture marks in the top layers of the nail. Nearly half of people with psoriasis — a skin condition that causes scaly, itchy, dry patches of skin — also have pitted nails. If you notice dry, patchy skin in combination with pitted toenails, have a conversation with your healthcare provider to see if they can help you find some relief.
Toenails that are concave and create a spoon-like shape in the nail bed could be a sign of iron deficiency. Consult your healthcare provider if you notice your toenails growing in this shape — they can run a simple blood test to assess iron levels and find out if you’re anemic. Other causes of this toenail shape include injury and overexposure to petroleum-based solvents and cleaners.
Thick, yellow toenails are a sign of a fungal infection in most cases. But, they can also be signaling that there’s something more serious wrong. If you have thick, yellow toenails, you might also have lymphedema, or swelling related to the lymphatic system, psoriasis, lung disease or rheumatoid arthritis.
As with many of the conditions listed here, white toenails could be a sign of something seriously wrong in the body, or they could just be a sign of injury. When a toenail becomes white, pulls away from the nailbed or splits, it’s probably a result of stubbing your toe. However, if the toenail is still fully attached and most of it is white, you might have liver or kidney disease, or in rare cases, congestive heart failure. Small white spots are usually a sign that you’ve injured your toe, though, so don’t panic if you notice single white toenail every once in a while.
Vertical dark line
A vertical dark line on your toenail could be telling you that you have acral lentiginous melanoma, or “hidden melanoma” which only appears on obscure body parts. The line runs from the base of the nail to the tip and should be assessed by a specialist to make sure it’s not a fungus.
Do your nails split or peel easily? That brittleness might be a sign of any of several conditions, including hypothyroidism or anemia. If you notice that your teen has brittle nails, it could be a sign of an eating disorder, like bulimia or anorexia.
I always advocate listening to your body, but be sure to look at it too, and note any changes with your toenails. Like your hair and your fingernails, they could be communicating valuable information about your internal health and wellness.
Have you ever experienced a problem with your toenails? Let us know in the comments below.