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What does a White Fingernail Indicate?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A white fingernail can indicate a number of different medical issues. If all of the nails are white or partially whitened, it usually means that a systemic problem is occurring. A single fingernail that turns white may indicate an issue with that specific finger. White nails may be all white or partially white, depending on the cause. In a clinical sign known as Terry's nails, for example, the nails are white with an arc of brown coloration at the tip.

One reason that a fingernail might turn white is poor vascularization in the finger. This can be the result of trauma to the finger or nailbed, as for example when a hand is slammed in a door, or it can be caused by diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or other circulatory problems. People with systemic circulatory problems may observe discoloration in all their fingernails.

Another cause is liver or kidney disease. People with advanced cirrhosis often have white fingernails, for example. Anemia can also lead to whitening and paleness in the fingernails, as can malnutrition.

If the fingernails are white, soft, and crumbly, it is a sign of fungal infection. In the early stages of fungal infection, one or more nails may go white before softening. The nails will be lost if the infection is allowed to persist, exposing the delicate nail bed.

In addition to whitening, fingernails can also thicken, distort, develop raised ridges, and exhibit other signs. All of these clinical signs in the fingernails can be useful diagnostic tools for medical professionals. People who notice changes in the color, thickness, texture, or shape of their fingernails should call a healthcare professional to discuss the situation.

The medical professional may determine that a white, ridged, or otherwise abnormal fingernail is a cause for concern, and recommend some diagnostic tests that can be used to learn more about the situation. Sometimes, changes in the fingernails are the first sign of a more serious underlying problem, and it is important to follow a healthcare provider's recommendations about diagnostic testing even if someone feels healthy and fit.

People who regularly paint their nails should try to get into the habit of periodically checking on nail health by removing the nail polish and other products to allow the natural color of the fingernail to show. It is also important to be aware of changes in texture and thickness that may reveal problems in the nail that are hidden by nail polish.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon966369 — On Aug 19, 2014

I never knew this. I had better get checked for circulatory problems and diabetes.

By anon957867 — On Jun 23, 2014

After wearing fingernail "gel" on all my nails since April, I noticed when it was removed that the nails were all spotted or streaked with white. it was almost like they were whitewashed. The manicurist suggested leaving the polish off for a week or two to see if they improve. I've never had this happen before even with acrylic nails. I'm not sure if it's a symptom of something serious or not. Any suggestions?

By anon254923 — On Mar 15, 2012

I already know I have cirrhosis of the liver, anemia, etc., and just recently had an elevated alpha fetoprotein suggestive of a cancerous process, although none was detected on liver ultrasound. I've had some low blood counts but not really significant.

However, I've noticed of late that my fingernails have simply stopped growing and seem to be brittle. Could there be another cancerous process, say, in the digestive system identified by my nails?

By Mae82 — On Jul 06, 2011

If you are looking at your fingernails and they appear more off color than white, is that a problem too?

I have noticed that my fingernails have seems to have pale areas that are almost white and the rest of the nails are a darker shade, perhaps more so than usual.

I eat a pretty healthy diet and I take supplements so I am sure that I don't have any mineral or vitamin deficiencies, but after reading this article I am a bit worried about my overall health.

Do you think that I should see a doctor if my nails are discolored and I am not sure what is causing it? I don't feel unwell, but would like to make sure everything is fine.

By golf07 — On Jul 06, 2011

The health of our nails can be an indication of the health of our immune system. If you notice any major nail changes, I would have a doctor take a look or run some blood work. Usually a big change in nail health indicates that something needs to be looked at.

I like to give my nails a break from polish and tips every few months. I love the look of getting my nails done, but don't think it is the best for them in the long run. I like to give them a chance to breathe and go natural for while.

When I do this and notice white spots on my fingernails, I will not use anything until my nails grow out and the white spots go away.

By Sara007 — On Jul 06, 2011

Having too pale white fingernails is actually how my friend found out she had anemia. She hadn't been feeling very well for a while and her mother spotted her hands and sent her off to the doctor.

After talking with the doctor she learned that having white fingernails indicates anemia in a lot of patients and that it is one of the first physical things most people notice.

I think if you want to self-check yourself for issues keeping an eye on your fingernails can be a simple way to go about things. I never knew they offered such a window into your general health, so now I make an effort to remove my nail polish and see how they are doing.

By julies — On Jul 05, 2011

Sometimes I have small white spots on my fingernails that will go away once the nail grows out. I have been told this can mean a couple of different things. Some say it is a zinc or calcium deficiency and others say it is caused by some kind of trauma to the nail.

Whatever the reason is, as long as they are not on all of my nails all of the time, I don't worry about it. I figure it must be some kind of deficiency, but haven't changed my supplement routine because I don't notice them all the time.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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