Nails are often regarded as a purely aesthetic feature, and the $768 million spent annually on nail polish (in the U.S. alone) can attest to that.1 Yet, your nails are far more than a platform for bright colors and nail art.
The shape, texture, and color of your natural nails act as a window into your body, and while some nail symptoms are harmless, others can be indicative of chronic diseases, including cancer. As noted by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD):2
“Nails often reflect our general state of health. Changes in the nail, such as discoloration or thickening, can signal health problems including liver and kidney diseases, heart and lung conditions, anemia, and diabetes.”
Even the growth rate of your nails may give clues about your underlying health. Healthy nails grow, on average 3.5 millimeters (mm) a month, but this is influenced by your nutritional status, medications, trauma, chronic disease, and the aging process itself.3
If you notice any significant changes in your nails, including swelling, discolorations, or changes in shape or thickness, see a dermatologist right away. It could be nothing, or it could be due to an underlying condition (for instance, nail problems are more common in people with diabetes).
Below are 10 nail symptoms you might experience in your lifetime and what they mean for your health.
10 Nail Symptoms and What They Mean for Your Health
Your nails may yellow with age or due to the use of acrylic nails or nail polish. Smoking can also stain nails a yellowish hue. If your nails are thick, crumbly, and yellow, a fungal infection could be to blame.