Just as the eyes are the windows to the soul, your nails can sometimes speak volumes about your physical health. Weak nails that curve up or nails that are pitted, horizontally ridged or discolored can tell your doctor that you have an underlying medical condition that requires treatment. If you have "spoon nails," or koilonychia, don't hesitate to see your treating physician.
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Koilonychia, the medical term given to weak nails that curl upward, have a unique presentation. According to the Mayo Clinic, the nail bed itself is concave, and in more extreme cases is "scooped out" enough to hold a small drop of liquid. The nail itself is thin and fragile.
Koilonychia is primarily associated with iron deficiency anemia, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. However, a March 2004 article in the American Family Physician states that "spoon nails" can be associated with iron deficiency, regardless if anemia itself is present.
Iron is a part of hemoglobin, the protein in your blood that transports oxygen throughout your body. Anemia, of which there is more than one type, results when your body doesn't manufacture enough red blood cells to get oxygen to your body tissues. Iron deficiency anemia is simply a type of anemia that's caused when you don't have enough iron. The University of Maryland Medical Center cites the main reasons for iron deficiency as poor iron absorption, blood loss and an iron-deficient diet.
Other Causes for "Spoon Nails"
Koilonychia can also be caused by trauma to the nail, repeated exposure of the nails to petroleum-based solvents, such as in an occupational setting, or nail-patella syndrome, according to the American Family Physician article. "Spoon nails" have also been noticed in patients who suffer from hemochromatosis, Raynaud's disease and lupus. Sometimes infants and small children exhibit koilonychia, but this generally resolves within the first few years after birth.
More About Nails
If you simply have soft, brittle, splitting nails, it's not likely that you have a nail disorder caused by a systemic disease or iron deficiency, states the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. The most common problems with nails–fingernails in particular–is caused by repeated wetting and drying, such as damage caused by household chores such as mopping and dishwashing, which in turn makes them dry and fragile. However, if your nails present with a marked upward tilt and depressed nail bed, or if you notice any other abnormalities, it's best to consult with your treating physician. If koilonychia is present, the American Family Physician states that doctors should conduct diagnostic testing to rule out unidentified health concerns.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Nail Disorders
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Iron Deficienty Anemia
- American Family Physician: Nail Abnormalities: Clues to Systemic Disease
- National Institutes of Health: Koilonychia
- American Osteopathic College of Dermatology: Brittle, Splitting Nails