Health Signs in Hands

7 Things Your Hands Say About Your Health
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They're one of the most important parts of our body when it comes to day-to-day activities; without them we couldn't cut vegetables, grip pliers, or text our friends. They're revealing, too: Not only do scars and age spots recount our personal history but mystics all the way back to prehistory have "read" our futures in their lines and whorls.

But what if your hands could say more about you than that? What if, looking down at your palms and the five digits attached to them, you could discover early signs of conditions or diseases you weren't aware of yet? "It used to be common for doctors to look at the hands for important clues to overall health," says endocrinologist Kenneth Blanchard of Newton, Massachusetts. "We need to get back to that, because hands can tell you a great deal about circulation, hormones, and thyroid function."

Here are seven important clues your hands can reveal about your overall health.

1. What Blotchy Red Palms Say About Your Health

In the short term, red palms might mean you gripped the shovel too hard when you planted tomatoes, hand-washed a few too many delicates, or grabbed the teakettle a few moments too soon. But if your palms remain reddened over a long period of time, this may be a condition called palmar erythema, which is a sign of liver disease, particularly of cirrhosis and nonalcoholic fatty liver. (One exception: If you're pregnant, red palms are normal, because increased blood flow causes redness in more than half of expecting women.)

Why? Inflammation of the liver gradually begins to impair its function, so it's no longer able to flush waste products out of the body as efficiently, Blanchard says. The result is an excess of circulating hormones, which in turn cause the blood vessels in the hands and feet to dilate, making them visible through the skin.

What to do: Get evaluated for other symptoms of liver disease, which include swollen legs and abdomen, prominent veins on the upper torso and abdomen, and fatigue. Show your doctor your hands and feet and ask for liver function tests. The most common tests for liver function are a bilirubin count and a liver enzyme count.

What Finger Length Says About Your Health

Comparative finger length can tell you a surprising amount about your likelihood of having certain conditions. Typically, men's ring fingers tend to be longer than their index fingers, while in women it's the opposite. Women who have a "masculinized" pattern, with ring fingers longer than their index fingers, are twice as likely to suffer from osteoarthritis, according to a 2008 study published in Arthritis and Rheumatism. The study found osteoarthritis of the knees to be more common in both men and women with longer ring fingers, but the effect was most pronounced in women. Longer index fingers, on the other hand, are associated with a higher risk of breast cancer in women and with a lower risk of prostate cancer in men. A 2010 study found that men whose index fingers were noticeably longer than their ring fingers were 33 percent less likely to develop prostate cancer.

Why? Scientists aren't sure yet, but they believe finger length is affected by exposure to varying amounts of the hormones testosterone and estrogen in the womb. Longer ring fingers indicate greater prenatal exposure to testosterone, while longer index fingers suggest higher estrogen exposure. Since breast cancer is estrogen-fueled, longer index fingers correlate with higher breast cancer. In men, more testosterone is linked to a higher incidence of prostate cancer, since one fuels the other. As for the osteoarthritis connection, scientists don't have a clear explanation yet but think it may have something to do with the way hormones affect early bone growth.

What to do: Women who have longer ring fingers may want to be on the alert for weak or sore joints, particularly knees, and get injuries or soreness evaluated. Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly can delay the onset of osteoarthritis. Men who may be at higher risk for prostate cancer should be proactive and discuss PSA testing with their doctors. Women ages 50 to 74 should have regular mammograms for breast cancer screening (some women may opt to start at age 40); if you think you may be at higher risk, talk to your doctor about more intensive screening.

Some researchers believe that finger length should be used as a criterion for more comprehensive cancer screening, but this is controversial. In the meantime, follow suggested guidelines for age-appropriate screening tests, and make your doctor aware of any additional risk factors you may have, such as family history.

What Swollen Fingers Say About Your Health

If you just got off an airplane, ignore this one for now. Swollen fingers can happen for the simplest of reasons: It's hot out, you're about to get your period, or you just ate salty ramen noodles. But if your fingers feel thick and stiff or your rings still won't fit after several days of drinking plenty of fluids and cutting back on salt , the swelling could suggest hypothyroidism.

Why? When the thyroid is underactive, it produces less of the important hormones that regulate your metabolism and keep your body functioning properly. And when metabolism slows, the result is typically weight gain and water accumulation.

"One of the first places you see that excess water is in the fingers," says endocrinologist Kenneth Blanchard, who authored What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Hypothyroidism (Grand Central Publishing, 2004). "You can feel it too; your fingers feel stiff because they don't bend as easily."

What to do: Ask your doctor about a routine thyroid check, which is a blood test that measures the level of thyroid-stimulating hormone, or TSH. Make sure your doctor is aware of new screening guidelines, which state that TSH level should be between 0.3 and 3.0.

What Pale Nails Say About Your Health

Under normal circumstances, if you press gently on your fingernails they turn white, and then when you release the pressure they turn pink again. If your nails stay white more than a minute after you press on them, or they look pale all the time, this can be a sign of anemia.

Why? Anemia, most commonly caused by iron deficiency, causes pale nails when there aren't enough red blood cells circulating in the bloodstream. If uncorrected over time, severe iron deficiency can also cause the nails to have a slightly concave shape. Clue: If anemia is the cause of pale nails, the nail beds (the thin strips at the base of nails) are likely to look particularly bleached out.

What to do: Iron deficiency can lead to fatigue or, in serious cases, heart problems, so you'll want to alert your doctor if you think you might be iron-deficient. Two of the most common causes of iron deficiency are heavy or longer-than-normal periods and ulcers, so let your doctor know if your cycle has changed or if you have ulcer symptoms, such as stomachache. Your doctor may recommend medication and will likely recommend increasing your dietary intake of iron-rich foods, such as red meat, spinach and other dark greens, and nuts. If your doctor recommends an iron supplement and it causes you digestive issues, ask about a nonconstipating formula such as Slow Fe. And remember to take vitamin C at the same time, as it helps iron absorption.

What Tiny Red Stripes Under the Nails Say About Your Health

Called splinter hemorrhages because they look like tiny red or brownish splinters under the nails, these are minute areas of bleeding that can signal infection in the heart or blood. Because they run in the direction of nail growth, they resemble splinters that got stuck under the nail.

Why? Splinter hemorrhages happen when tiny blood clots block blood flow in the capillaries beneath the nails. (Toenails, too.) They most often occur with an infection of the heart valves called endocarditis. This condition typically occurs in someone with a heart murmur or underlying infection. If you just have a few red spots under the nails and have never been diagnosed with a heart problem, don't panic: It's most likely that these are from some other cause, probably injuries to the hands.

What to do: Take your temperature to see if you have a fever. Bacterial endocarditis is typically accompanied by a low-grade fever. If you've never had your heart checked and are concerned about these symptoms, call your doctor for a checkup. However, if your heart's been given a clean bill of health, then heart valve infection is an unlikely cause and you can wait to see if the red spots clear up on their own.

What Thick, Rounded Fingertips Say About Your Health

Known as "clubbing," thickened fingertips that angle out above the last knuckle like miniature clubs can be a sign of heart or lung disease. You may also notice the nail rounding, so your fingers curve downward like the inside of a spoon.

Why? If the circulatory systems of the heart or lungs are impaired, oxygen levels in the blood are likely to drop. Over time, this causes the soft tissues of the fingertip pads to grow, so fingertips (and the ends of toes) appear to bulge outward.

What to do: If your fingers and toes are clubbing, it's likely you've been noticing other symptoms, such a shortness of breath or chronic cough. Clubbing also occurs with aortic valve disease, which can cause fatigue and chest pain. See your doctor for a full heart and lung evaluation. Be sure to tell your doctor how long you've noticed the change in your fingers and toes, as well as how long you've been experiencing other symptoms.

To monitor the oxygen level in your blood, you can get tested by your doctor or use a pulse oximeter, available at most medical supply stores. If you think your heart and lungs are healthy, ask your doctor to run a standard battery of tests. If you're already aware that you have a heart or lung condition, discuss with your doctor whether this may be a sign of worsening symptoms.

What Blue Fingertips Say About Your Health

Fingertips that are gray- or blue-tinged or feel numb can be a sign of a circulatory disorder known as Raynaud's disease or Raynaud's syndrome.

Why? Raynaud's syndrome causes sudden temporary spasms in the blood vessels and arteries. The narrowed arteries, Blanchard says, constrict blood flow to the hands and fingers, decreasing circulation. Symptoms include cold hands and numb fingertips, in addition to a bluish tinge. Between 5 and 10 percent of people have this condition, so it's more common than you might think. Raynaud's is more common in women than men, and it gets worse in cold weather. It's also brought on by increased stress.

What to do: Sudden changes in temperature, such as taking ice cubes out of the freezer, can bring on a Raynaud's attack, so be aware of this effect and ask others to perform such tasks when possible. Wear gloves when you go outside in cold weather, since cold is one of the major triggers for Raynaud's. Even temperatures below 60 degrees are a problem for many Raynaud's sufferers, so you may want to stash gloves in your car, in your purse or briefcase, and by the front door.

It's important not to ignore symptoms, since, over time, Raynaud's attacks can restrict circulation to the point of causing tissue damage. The best way to prevent Raynaud's is to make lifestyle changes to keep your circulation healthy. Smoking and caffeine both constrict blood vessels, so quit smoking and cut down on coffee, tea, and cola. Boost your aerobic exercise to raise your heart rate and get your blood pumping.

Some people suffer from "secondary" Raynaud's, brought on by another underlying condition. In this case, treating the underlying condition is the key to preventing Raynaud's attacks.


10 months ago, said...

What about tiny little blisters on palms


12 months ago, said...

i still did not get an answer to my question i would like to know what causes the veins on top of your hand to change colors mine are going from blue to red what should i do for this or is this just normal as you get older?


about 1 year ago, said...

How does the hand break down the body?


about 1 year ago, said...

I have looked a few places and still cannot figure out why I have a red line in the middle of my palm. It is going up to my middle finger with a small indent. I haven't grabbed nor held anything, basically I just have woken up. Any ideas?


about 2 years ago, said...

If it had some credibility.


about 2 years ago, said...

As a nurse, fingers and hands are very revealing. Glad this educational article has brought forth. Thank You


about 2 years ago, said...

photos of the nail problems that were being described.


about 2 years ago, said...

Nothing I had to be aware of, thank you -- just checking.


about 2 years ago, said...

The article is helpful to a point. I was wondering about the "pale nail beds" and if a person has totally white beds, but it not iron deficient, what are some of the other causes? thank you for your help.


about 2 years ago, said...

what causes swelling in hands and wrist that hurt


over 2 years ago, said...

Raynauds disease I found can also affect the feet and toes. My doctor also tell me even rarer for some people it can affect their nose and ears. Possiblity their nipples too so don't be embrass. For me its hands, feet, fingers, and toes sometimes ears and only twice with my nose. You may also want to see a doctor about neuropathy which I have in this article segiments about anything with circulation.


over 2 years ago, said...

The anemic thing I found to be true also if you crave weird things like bloody and or red meat, or ice cubes don't think you're weird that can be normal with serve anemia. I know from experience.


over 2 years ago, said...

Thick fingers when its cold can also mean raynauds diseaese because I have that too. I also have postural orthostatic tacycardia sydrome or p.o.t.s which is a heart disease.


over 2 years ago, said...

I mean you do say noticibly longer fingers on the men's ring fingers so women the same you said have a "masculine" pattern. But what if their not noticibly longer just slightly longer does that still apply? You don't really answer that.


over 2 years ago, said...

This one I feel is compeletly wrong I have over active hormones and I know for a fact its estrogen because my doctors said so and my ring finger is slightly longer than my index which I always was taught was normal and the index finger longer then the ring was abnormal. I know its estrogen because it causes problems with heavy bleeding during PMS so much I was hospitalized every other month. It would of been everything month if I could afford it. Now they have me on hormone therapy. So I think you need to do extra research on the length of fingers segiment because I was always taught the if your index finger is longer then your ring finger that, that was masculine and I think I'll trust my body and my doctor's before an internet article.


over 2 years ago, said...

Now I know why I have joint, especially knee pain!


over 2 years ago, said...

I thought it was poor circulation, if it was flush always.


over 2 years ago, said...

I have had Raynaud's for many years and recently traveled for 6 weeks. During that time I drank caffeinated coffee and ate lots of chocolate. Then I was home for 10 days eating chocolate, then away another week with caffeine. I have been home for 2 weeks (very little caffeine) and sure enough it returned! I am also under stress which I had not known affected it. The first 2 I had frankly forgotten about can stay away from but dealing with a spouse with Early Alzheimer's is a daily stress problem. Any ideas welcomed!


over 2 years ago, said...

good general overview


over 2 years ago, said...

thanks


about 3 years ago, said...

interesting articles about the heart...


about 3 years ago, said...

What about yellowish palms?


over 3 years ago, said...

I've fought the severe form of this disorder for decades, glad to see it given some press! I crochet custom scarfs to cover my neck,nose and bury my hands into the excess length. Another bane is any tiny draft in temperatures below 89 degrees. Many times people actually ask me "Are you cold?" My usual answer is, "No. Not now."


over 3 years ago, said...

More of the same. The tongue used to be looked at, too. Simple healthy bodyvfoodscalso


over 3 years ago, said...

actual pictures of hans/fingers with the conditions


over 3 years ago, said...

Instead of SlowFE, try the super-low-side-effect PurAbsorb imported from the UK. Pills all seem to be much harder to digest.


over 3 years ago, said...

Information is knoweledge and it is very helfpful and thank you for giving it to all of us. In hope that we can all benefit from this information and applying it for a better healthy body. Troella


over 3 years ago, said...

I've had Raynaud's syndrome years, but my fingertips are not gray or blue-tinged/ They are numb and are pale yellow as though all the blood has been drained from them. It is quiet painful and occurs winter and summer, I don't carry gloves around with me, so I use finger exercises, rub them against each other, and shake my hands vigorously to increase the blood supply. I really haven't noticed an increase or decrease in the number of times this occurs no matter what beverage I consume or how much exercise I get. I smoked when I was younger, but quit over 40 years ago. No one mentioned having Raynaud's in their toes... so I must be an anomaly. It hobbles you with the pain and I always grab a shopping cart to push around and hold on to, just incase it strikes. I use it to steady me as I walk on my tiptoes and scrunch my toes to get the circulation back. I'm old enough and observant enough to recognize my physician looking at my hands and fingernails during routine checkups. Even they would never know I have Raynaud's, unless I tell them. You can't tell by looking at them, unless you are having an episode during the visit. Your article is helpful for those who have never heard of the syndrome, but have experienced the effects. Thank you for including this in your article.


over 3 years ago, said...

I think if you are truly a medical professional, you would know that "screaning" is actually spelled "screening". You might want to correct that. Hope this comment helps.


over 3 years ago, said...

I always have splinter like spots on my big toe when I wear shoes that are tight and finally realized that it was the pressure applied to my toe when standing that caused this.


over 3 years ago, said...

Interesting enough, most of the described states are beyond my ken. They smack of lifestyles across most of the individual's years in which dietary care was a bit lower down the order, so enabling deficiencies to increase & the resultant effect(s) begin to take their toll. The essence is that with much of modern diet styles better food intakes become reduced. So supplement with multivitamin input for a start.


over 3 years ago, said...

Clubbing finger tips most often occur because of smoking in otherwise healthy people. Solution? Stop smoking.


over 3 years ago, said...

Told me of things to watch for in both myself and my family. We have many conditions that run in our families that can show up in our hands before we may have other symptoms to talk to our doctors about.