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Let's nail this one down

All Health's Breaking Loose

June 03, 2010|Loa Blasucci

Your body is a walking, talking billboard telling the world how well it's being managed by you. Your waistline, skin tone and even your disposition are all outward signs of just how well you're doing. But there's another marker that is putting some pretty important information out there.

Look down at your hands. Here's what you've got: nail plates — the part you see or what you call your nails, nail beds — the skin beneath the nail plates, cuticles — the tissue that curves around the base of the nail and overlaps slightly, nail folds — the skin that supports and frames the nail on three sides, the lunula — the whitish half-moon shape at the base of your nails, and the matrix — the hidden part of the nail unit, under the cuticle.

As new cells grow in the matrix, the old cells are pushed out, forming what you see as your nail. The nails are composed mostly of keratin, a hardened protein also found in skin and hair. Since shapes and textures can be genetic, your hands may resemble your mother's hands.

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Your fingernails are produced by living skin cells in your fingers, so the color and texture of your nails can be a warning sign to underlying medical conditions. Have you noticed the color of your nails lately? Hopefully there's a slightly pinkish cast to the nail bed and a whiteness to the nail plates. Overly white or pale nails may indicate liver disease or anemia. Red cuticles may indicate lupus, while thick, yellow, slow-growing nails may indicate lung problems or emphysema. Redness under the nail sometimes accompanies heart disease, and brownish nails may indicate kidney problems. Yellow or green discoloration may result from a respiratory condition, such as chronic bronchitis.

Check the texture and tone as well. Extremely brittle or split nails may indicate an under-active thyroid. A major illness, trauma or surgery may cause a deep horizontal groove to form in the nail plate. Paramedics often use fingernail beds as an indicator of tissue perfusion when checking an individual who may be in shock. They gently press and release the fingernail bed, which briefly turns the nail white. If it does not return to a pink color within one or two seconds, it's possible the patient is in shock.

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