Life has a way of getting pretty hectic. So much so, that many of us don’t take the time we need to slow down, breathe, appreciate the beauty around us and make our health a priority.
Fingernails can reveal an amazing amount about a person’s health, medical experts say, with a surprising number of conditions manifesting themselves with changes in the shape, colour or overall state of the nails.
“It may be the first sign, it may be the herald sign of … an internal disease,” says Dr. Yves Poulin, a Quebec City dermatologist and president-elect of the Canadian Dermatology Association.
Lung disorders, nasal polyps, anemia, inflammatory bowel syndrome and liver diseases can provoke changes in the fingernails.
In some cases those alterations can prompt people to seek medical attention, in the process bringing to light previously undiagnosed conditions. In others, the state of a patient’s nails will help a physician clarify what is at play.
“For us, it helps to make the correct diagnosis to look at the nail,” Poulin says.
The bed of the fingernails of healthy individuals should be a light pink. Nail beds that are white may suggest anemia – a red blood cell deficiency which itself can be a symptom of other, sometimes serious, diseases. When the nails themselves grow opaque and white, it can be a sign of liver disease.
Lisa Harrison Williams was giving her client a manicure when she noticed that her client had a dark black line on her fingernail. She immediately knew that something wasn’t right. Lisa wrote about the incident on her Facebook page and explained that her client had been going to the salon for years. The client sat down and asked Lisa for a nail polish cover dark enough to cover the stripe on her nail.
Lisa explained that she didn’t want to scare her client, but she believed the black line in her nail was an urgent matter. She told her client that the black line was a sign of melanoma, and she should see her doctor as soon as possible.
The most dangerous form of skin cancer, these cancerous growths develop when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells (most often caused by ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds) triggers mutations (genetic defects) that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors. These tumors originate in the pigment-producing melanocytes in the basal layer of the epidermis. Melanomas often resemble moles; some develop from moles. The majority of melanomas are black or brown, but they can also be skin-colored, pink, red, purple, blue or white. Melanoma is caused mainly by intense, occasional UV exposure (frequently leading to sunburn), especially in those who are genetically predisposed to the disease. Melanoma kills an estimated 10,130 people in the US annually.
If melanoma is recognized and treated early, it is almost always curable, but if it is not, the cancer can advance and spread to other parts of the body, where it becomes hard to treat and can be fatal. While it is not the most common of the skin cancers, it causes the most deaths. In 2016, an estimated 76,380 of these will be invasive melanomas, with about 46,870 in males and 29,510 in women.