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Nails can reveal development of disorders.

Although fingernails reveal much about the personal habits of most individuals, they can also provide information to the discerning physician. Nails are truly a reflection of one's general health.

Onychology, the study of fingernails, is usually included as part of the physical examination performed by dermatologists. Subtle revelations of problems developing can be detected. Such body disorders can be benign or potentially serious. Hereditary conditions, worrisome or otherwise, may be perceived by the physician's probe.

The nail's singular composition provides a fascinating look into the complex interplay of the body's functions. As an appendage of the skin, the nail like hair, functions with similar cell structures. Nail growth begins at the root. As old cells protrude in growth, they are replaced by newer ones, taking on a flattened form and becoming compacted into a dense, horn-like texture.

Nails lengthen on an average of 0.1 mm., each day. But their rate of growth actually depends on other factors, including time of years, age, race, mobility, occupation, diet, and nutritional status.

Fingernails grow faster than toenails. They also vary in speed of growth; slower in the summer, faster on long fingers, slower on the left hand, faster on the right. Growth is also affected by disease, hormone deficiencies, and even aging.

Nails should be inspected by regarding the base of the nail plate, paying attention to nail folds located at each side of the nail plate. Abnormal coloring, shape, or swelling should be viewed with concern. Be suspicious of white bands, indentations, or ridges on the nail plate. Is there a loosening of the plate, or separation? If a subtle change of color is apparent, squeeze the tip of the finger to determine whether considerable change takes place.

Other signs of degeneration are clubbed nails, which cause the fingertips to seem bulbous. Cardiac disease is usually associated with these indications. So are abdominal and chest infections.

Iron deficiency is indicated when nails become flattened, eventually developing into the shape of a concave spoon.

Splinter hemorrhages are caused by a disruption of blood vessels in the nail bed. Vitamin-mineral deficiencies may be the cause of this condition.

Onycholysis is a syndrome characterized by degeneration resulting in looseness and detachment of nails. A greenish color often appears at the nail site.

One of the causes of onycholysis is nail polish infection caused by cement used in attaching artificial nails.

Prophylactic measures to detect problems that may be developing include periodic inspection, with attention to variations in color, shape, swelling bands, identiations, separations, and ridges.
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Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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