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Senior Correspondent

Q. I was at a party recently when a nurse told a friend of mine to see a doctor because his nails were kind of white. He went to the doctor and found out he has a liver problem. Were the two events just coincidental?

The condition of your nails can tell medical professionals a lot about your health. Most doctors include a nail examination during a physical checkup. Common problems that produce symptoms in the nails are the following:

* White nails—liver diseases
* Thick, pitted nails—psoriasis
* Nails that are half pink/half white—kidney diseases
* Red nail beds—heart conditions
* Thick, yellow nails—lung diseases
* Pale or concave nail beds—anemia
* Light yellow nails, with a slight blush at the base—diabetes

Nail growth is affected by disease, hormone imbalance, and the aging process, itself. Many seniors suffer from nail problems because nails thicken as we age, there are greater circulation difficulties, and we use more medications that impact nails.

Before we go on, some nail anatomy:

The nail plate is the part of the nail you can see on a digit. A nail bed is the skin under a plate. The cuticle is the tissue that overlaps the plate. The matrix is the part of the nail that’s tucked under the cuticle. The lunula is the crescent moon at the base of the nail.

Nails are made primarily of keratin, an extremely strong protein that is also a major part of skin, hair and teeth. The nails grow from the matrix.

Some interesting facts:

Nails grow faster in the summer than in winter. Fingernails grow faster than toenails. The nails on your dominant hand grow faster than the other hand. Men’s nails usually grow more quickly than women’s, except when women are pregnant or seniors.
Nails grow about one-tenth of a millimeter daily.

Most minor injuries to nails heal without help. Some nail problems can be treated with medicines. Other conditions may require nail removal. If a nail is infected, discolored, swollen, painful, get to a doctor.

Taking good care of you nails can avoid many disorders. Here are some tips:

* To prevent infections, wash your nails often and keep them dry.
* Thick toenails, which come with age, are difficult to trim. Soaking your feet in warm salt water will soften them and make them easier to cut. Trimming after a bath or shower makes sense.
* Toenails should be cut straight across so that the nail does not extend beyond the tip of the toe. Do not round off corners
* Don’t bite your fingernails…if you can help it.
* Don’t remove cuticles.
* To remove any snags, use a fine file.
* Disinfect your nail-trimmers and files.
* Don’t try amateur surgery on yourself to fix an ingrown toenail. Get professional treatment.
* If you use public showers, wear flip-flops to prevent getting infections.
* Make sure your shoes and socks fit properly and they are made of materials that don’t suffocate the feet.
* Shoes and socks should be changed often. Healthcare professionals recommend changing more than once daily.

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