There are a variety of medical conditions that can cause white fingernails. Here’s what you need to know.
Have you stopped to look at your fingernails lately? The fingernails can be an excellent reflection of what’s going on inside the body. When you visit your doctor for a physical exam, chances are, the doctor will look closely at your nails to see if there are any color changes involving the nail bed, changes in the conformation of the nail surface, or the presence of any unusual lines or ridges. These can all be signs of health or disease. You can also sometimes get information about nutritional status and even a person’s occupation and hobbies by studying their fingernails. One sign that’s usually carefully assessed when looking at nails is color. Occasionally, when examining fingernails you’ll notice they appear whiter in color than normal. What causes white fingernails?
Do you truly have white fingernails?
Before determining what causes white fingernails, it’s important to know whether the entire nail bed is white in color or whether there are white spots or streaks. These are two entirely different types of problems which would suggest different causes. If the entire nail bed is white or pale in color, there are several conditions that could be the cause.
What most commonly causes white fingernails?
The problem that most commonly causes white fingernails where the entire nail bed is white in color is the presence of anemia. In most cases, the anemia will be an iron deficiency anemia which is not uncommon in premenopausal women. When iron deficiency anemia is seen in an older person, it may suggest a more serious condition such as blood loss from bleeding microscopically from the colon or a chronic disease. This is also more likely to be true when iron deficiency is found in a man. Sometimes white fingernails can be the first sign of iron deficiency anemia which is why it’s important to examine your fingernails. Iron deficiency anemia can also cause the nail to appear thinner and more concave in shape than normal. Other disorders that cause white fingernails are the presence of kidney or liver disease. Diabetes can also cause the nail beds to turn white and pale in color.
How can you detect these conditions?
All of these problems can be diagnosed by getting a simple chemistry panel which is a blood test performed in your doctor’s office. The results will indicate whether or not there is an iron deficiency anemia and can also measure kidney function, liver enzymes, and blood sugar to rule out these conditions as a cause of white fingernails.
What should you do if your nail beds appear pale and white?
If your nail beds appear white and pale in color, the best course of action is to contact your doctor immediately to be scheduled for blood tests. If the cause is iron deficiency anemia, this can usually be corrected with dietary changes and iron supplementation.