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What Your Hands Say About Your Health

Important info about your overall health may literally be at your fingertips, according to Debra Jaliman, M.D., a dermatologist and member of the Family Circle Health Advisory Board. Here, she decodes pale nails, puffy fingers and more.
FINGERS
Hands together
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Puffiness: Salty snacks, antibiotics, hot weather and PMS can all bring on bloat. Swelling that doesn't subside after a few days of drinking plenty of fluids, however, could be a sign of a kidney, liver, thyroid or heart problem, so see your doctor.

Blue tips: About 5% of the population (mostly women) has Raynaud's disease, a condition brought on by stress or cold temperatures that causes the tips of the fingers, ears, nose or toes to get cold, numb and bluish. Usually it's just a nuisance, but discuss with your doctor if symptoms last more than a half hour.

NAILS

Breakage: Nails dry out and weaken naturally with age. But if they crack, peel and break easily, it could also be a sign of B-vitamin deficiency. Up your intake of fish, poultry, meat, eggs, dairy and leafy green vegetables.

Paleness: The skin underneath nails should be light pink (aside from the small half-moons above cuticles). If it's white, you may have iron-deficiency anemia. Fill up on iron-rich foods like spinach, lean red meat and beans, and show your doctor at your next visit.

Black mark: A dark line or spot underneath one nail may be a bruise, but if it doesn't disappear in a few days, err on the side of caution and make an appointment with a dermatologist to rule out the possibility of melanoma.

White spots: No need to worry about a small splotch on an otherwise healthy-looking fingernail. These appear when you injure the root. Don't be surprised if you can't remember how it happened—nails grow just one-tenth of an inch per month.

PALMS

Orange/yellow tint: Ginger-hued hands are no cause for concern—in fact, they're a sign you have a diet rich in veggies full of the pigment carotene, like carrots, sweet potatoes and winter squash.

Redness: Pinkish palms that itch and burn may be caused by eczema, a very common skin ailment. Water, household cleaners and harsh soaps aggravate it, so wear gloves when you clean and moisturize your hands with a fragrance-free lotion after washing.

KNOT A PROBLEM

Work the kinks out of your hands and wrists with these tips from Frank Lipman, M.D., founder of the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in New York City.

1. Lift your left arm out in front of you. Using your right hand, pull the fingers of your left hand backward toward your forearm until you feel a stretch. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds. Repeat with your other hand.

2. Follow step 1, but instead of pulling your fingers upward, bend your hand down and pull your palm toward your forearm.

3. For about 10 seconds, knead your right thumb and middle finger into the fleshy part of your left hand between the thumb and index finger. Then treat other tender areas. When finished, massage your other hand the same way.

Q. My hands are always cold. Do I have poor circulation?

A. Not necessarily. If you have no other symptoms, your body may simply be trying to maintain its normal temperature. Hands so chilly that you can't concentrate on anything else, though, may signal a circulation or nerve problem.

Originally published in the October 17, 2011, issue of Family Circle magazine.

All content on this Web site, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.