When to See a Doctor

Because fingernail problems can indicate more serious health issues, you should consult a doctor if you see any of the following changes: change in color or shape, swollen or painful areas of the nail bed, white or black lines, or unusual dents or ridges. Also, because growths and cysts under or around the nail plate can indicate anything from a viral infection to cancer, you should seek treatment immediately [source: The American Academy of Dermatology].

Fingernails and Health

While most fingernail problems are minor and can be taken care of with a little care and attention, others can be a telltale sign of more serious issues.

Nail discoloration, such as yellow nails, may indicate a respiratory problem, such as chronic bronchitis [source: Mayo Clinic]. Yellow nails can also indicate systemic issues, such as lymphedema of limbs, which is a buildup of lymph fluid that causes your limbs to swell, or pleural effusion, which is when fluid builds up around your lungs and chest cavity. Nails that are half white and half pink may indicate renal failure [source: The Merck Manuals]. Nails that turn black, brown or purple without being injured may point to melanoma [source: WebMD]. And if your nail beds are pale, it can indicate that you are suffering from anemia [source: The American Academy of Dermatology].

For those with diabetes, the disease can affect many parts of the body, including the nails. Untreated or unchecked diabetes can reveal nails that are yellowish, with a slight blush at the base. Tumors and warts can form under fingernails. As the tumor or wart grows, it can affect the growth of the nail and the surrounding skin.

Although unusual, nails can detach from the nail bed without apparent cause. This could be due to a condition called psoriatic nails. About 50 percent of people with psoriasis (a skin disease that develops when skin cells grow too quickly and form scaly patches on the skin) have exhibited psoriatic nails. Symptoms of psoriatic nails include pitted nails, white pockets under the nail plate that indicate air bubbles, crumbling of the nail plate, or complete nail plate detachment or loss. Psoriatic nails are often associated with psoriatic arthritis [source: PsoriasisNet].

Now that you know a few things about your fingernails and nail health, you may be wondering what you can do to prevent some of the more common problems. To find out, check out the next page.