What are nail abnormalities?
Healthy nails appear smooth and have consistent coloring. As you age, you may develop vertical ridges, or your nails may be a bit more brittle. This is harmless. Spots due to injury should grow out with the nail.
Abnormalities — such as spots, discoloration, and nail separation — can result from injuries to the fingers and hands, viral warts (periungual warts), infections (onychomycosis), and some medications, such as those used for chemotherapy.
Certain medical conditions can also change the appearance of your fingernails. However, these changes can be difficult to interpret. Your fingernails’ appearance alone isn’t enough to diagnose a specific illness. A doctor will use this information, along with your other symptoms and a physical exam, to make a diagnosis.
You should always consult your doctor if you have any questions about changes in your nails.
Abnormalities of the fingernail
Some changes in your nails are due to medical conditions that need attention. See your doctor if you have any of these symptoms:
- discoloration (dark streaks, white streaks, or changes in nail color)
- changes in nail shape (curling or clubbing)
- changes in nail thickness (thickening or thinning)
- nails that become brittle
- nails that are pitted
- bleeding around nails
- swelling or redness around nails
- pain around nails
- a nail separating from the skin
These nail changes can be caused by a variety of different conditions, including ones we describe below.
Depressions that run across your fingernail are called Beau’s lines. These can be a sign of malnourishment. Other conditions that cause Beau’s lines are:
- diseases that cause a high fever such as measles, mumps, and scarlet fever
- peripheral vascular disease
- uncontrolled diabetes
- zinc deficiency
Clubbing is when your nails thicken and curve around your fingertips, a process that generally takes years. This can be the result of low oxygen in the blood and is associated with:
- cardiovascular diseases
- inflammatory bowel disease
- liver diseases
- pulmonary diseases
Koilonychia is when your fingernails have raised ridges and scoop outward, like spoons. It’s also called “spooning.” Sometimes the nail is curved enough to hold a drop of liquid. Spooning can be a sign that you have:
- iron deficiency anemia
- heart disease
- hemochromatosis, a liver disorder that causes too much iron to be absorbed from food
- lupus erythematosus, an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation
- Raynaud’s disease, a condition that limits your blood circulation
Leukonychia (white spots)
Nonuniform white spots or lines on the nail are called leukonychia. They’re usually the result of a minor trauma and are harmless in healthy individuals. Sometimes leukonychia is associated with poor health or nutritional deficiencies. Factors can include infectious, metabolic, or systemic diseases as well as certain drugs.