What Toenails Can Say About Your Health

When changes occur to the toenails, they can be an indication of various underlying medical conditions. These changes can occur due to trauma, infections, biomechanical abnormalities, diseases, nutritional deficiencies, genetic factors, and overall effects of aging. Since the nails can undergo specific reactions, it is possible to predict the changes occurring over time. These changes are often associated with specific health conditions that may not always be noticed. The following are examples of several nail pathologies and their commonly associated underlying conditions:

  • Anonychia – These are absent nails and are commonly seen in patients with a genetic condition such as nail-patella syndrome (underdevelopment of the nails and kneecaps) or due to trauma or previous surgery of the nails (i.e. stubbing nails, previous nail removals)
  • Brittle Nails – This is often a result of disturbances in proper nutrition, aging, decreased thyroid activity (hypothyroidism), or excessive exposure to water or certain chemicals. The result are brittle, soft nails that can easily be cracked, split, or chipped with minimal effort
  • Koilonychia – The nail has a spoon-shaped appearance, causing a concave in the nail, and is commonly seen in people with iron deficiency anemia
  • Onychauxis – Abnormal thickening of the nail bed and may be caused trauma to the nail bed or due to an infection caused by certain bacteria or fungi
  • Nail Clubbing – Enlarging tips of the fingers and toes with an increased curving of the nails and is commonly seen in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD)
  • Onycholysis – Aptly described when the nail separates from the nail bed and is commonly found in people with psoriasis, fungal infections, or because of drug interactions

These are just a few examples of how toenails can give clues to other possibly underlying, undiagnosed conditions. When putting on shoes, showering, or taking off your shoes, be sure to take the time to properly inspect your toenails for any abnormal changes. Changes you want to look out for would be: unusual nail shapes (i.e. concavity, excessive growth, pitting), color changes, pain, swelling, or any tenderness when touching, standing, or walking. 

If you have noticed any unusual changes to your toenails and have concerns, please do not hesitate to schedule an appointment with Dr. Gary N. Friedlander or Dr. Jay C. Larson at Sole Foot and Ankle Specialists in Glendale, Arizona, and have all your treatment options presented to you and ensure you and your family maintain healthy feet this holiday season.

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