“Our hands can reveal a great deal about our health,” says Dr Kevin Teh, medical director of Singapore Lipo, Body and Face Centre. For example, nails and joints in our hands can sometimes show more obvious signs of being affected by illness than our internal organs. Look out for the signs below, which could point to possible underlying health issues.
PALE NAILS AND PALMS
Your nails lack a healthy, pinkish appearance. Instead, there’s a whitish tinge to them, as well as in the creases of your palm.
THIS COULD MEAN... You have a low red blood cell or haemoglobin count. “Haemoglobin is the oxygen-carrying component in red blood cells and also gives them their colour,” explains Dr Daryl Tan, a consultant and specialist in haematology at Raffles Cancer Centre. A low haemoglobin level could be a sign of conditions such as anaemia, excessive blood loss during menstruation, bone marrow failure and kidney failure.
SWEATY PALMS WITH SLIGHT TREMOR
To test if you have hand tremors, stretch your hands out with your palms facing downward and place a piece of paper on top of them. If the paper flutters noticeably, you have a significant tremor.
THIS COULD MEAN... You have an overactive thyroid gland that produces an excessive amount of thyroid hormones, causing your body functions to speed up. This often leads to a higher metabolic rate and an increase in your body temperature. Hyperthyroidism could be due to Graves’ disease, an immune system disorder that can be triggered by stress. Thankfully, it can be easily treated by doctors.
LARGE, COARSE HANDS AND FINGERS
Your hands grow progressively larger and start looking “spade-like”, with a swollen base and tapering off at the fingers. The skin on your hands, along with that on the rest of your body, feels rough and coarse. There may also be numbness or a tingling sensation in your fingers.
THIS COULD MEAN... You have too much growth hormones, which could be a symptom of a condition known as acromegaly. Growth hormones occur naturally in our bodies, with more being produced when we’re young to help with growth and bone development. In adults, they help maintain our body structure and metabolism. An excess of growth hormones after puberty can lead to acromegaly, a condition where the bones in your face, hands and feet progressively increase in size.
“This is often due to a benign brain tumour in the pituitary gland, which produces growth hormones,” says Dr Teh. It’s most common in women between 30 and 50 years old.
Your nails curve downward due to the thickening of the tissue beneath them, and end up looking like the base of an overturned spoon. It’s also known as nail clubbing, and can develop quickly, often within weeks.
THIS COULD MEAN... You have a serious health condition, “the most common being a heart or lung disease, such as chronic infections, cancer and cardiovascular diseases,” says Dr Teh.
WHAT TO DO
Always consult a doctor if you notice any of these signs. There’s no need to set yourself up for unnecessary anxiety because these “are just signs of a possible underlying disease, not an actual diagnosis,” says Dr Teh. Also, don’t self-medicate as many of these conditions tend to overlap.
This story was originally published in the September 2013 issue of Her World.