Most of us don't pay too much attention to our fingernails, except when we're looking for just the right shade of polish to match our new date-night dress, or when a nail snags painfully close to the quick. But this is one case where ignorance definitely isn't bliss; our nails actually say a lot about our health, and not paying attention to them can allow a minor medical condition to grow into a major one. What are your nails trying to tell you?
It seems that our fingertips are like the canary in our internal coal mine: When their appearance changes in any significant way, it's often a signal that something is going wrong elsewhere in our body. As dermatologist Christine Poblete-Lopez, M.D., told the Cleveland Clinic, "Your nails are a very good reflection of your health. Many things can occur in the nails that can signify systemic or skin problems."
Some fingernail symptoms are (presumably) too drastic and severe to ignore. For example, so-called "spoon nails," or koilonychia, describe nails that become soft and severely indented. This can signal a number of conditions, from heart disease to a liver disorder that causes an over-absorption of iron, according to the Mayo Clinic. Other nail changes are much subtler, so you might not even notice them until signs of illness appear elsewhere on or in your body. (Especially if your nails are usually covered up in polish.)
Below are just a few of the nail symptoms that can signal health conditions. Of course, it's important to talk to your doctor if you notice any unusual or sudden change in the appearance of your fingernails or toenails, or if the nail change is accompanied by other symptoms. Because your nails are for more than just manicures, after all.