Health Conditions Affecting Your Hands
Written by Faith Anderson on August 20, 2012
Blotchy red palms
If you experience red palms temporarily, it probably doesn’t mean anything. However, if your palms remain reddened for a long period of time, you could have a condition called palmar erythema, which is a sign of liver disease. When the liver becomes inflamed, it gradually loses its ability to function properly, which means it is no longer able to efficiently flush waste products from the body. This can cause an excess of circulating hormones, which leads to dilated blood vessels in the hands and feet, making them visible. If you think you might be suffering from liver disease, see a doctor to determine if you have any other symptoms of the condition. Before you go to the doctor though, keep in mind that red palms are normal in pregnant women, due to increased blood flow.
The length of your fingers
Comparing the length of your fingers can tell you a surprising amount about your risk for certain health conditions. Normally, men’s ring fingers are longer than their index fingers, while the opposite is true in women. According to a 2008 study published in Arthritis and Rheumatism, women who have ring fingers longer than their index fingers are twice as likely to develop osteoarthritis. The study found osteoarthritis of the knees to be more common in both women and men whose ring fingers were longer, but the effect was more pronounced in women. Along the same lines, longer index fingers have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer in women and a lower risk of prostate cancer in men. Scientist believe that finger length is affected by exposure to varying levels of estrogen and testosterone in the womb. Women who have longer ring fingers should pay attention to weak or sore joints, and should get soreness or injuries evaluated. Men, on the other hand, should be proactive about PSA testing, and should talk to their doctors about additional testing.
In most cases, if you press on your fingernails, they turn white and then turn pink again when you release the pressure. If your nails remain white for more than a minute after you press on them, or if they look pale all the time, it could be a sign of anemia. Anemia is an iron deficiency, and pale nails occur when there aren’t enough red blood cells circulating in the bloodstream. An iron deficiency can lead to complications like fatigue or even heart problems, so be sure to alert your doctor if you think your pale nails might be a symptom of anemia.
Swollen fingers are common when it’s hot out, when you’ve just eaten salty foods, or when you’re about to get your period. However, if your fingers feel stiff and thick after several days of cutting back on salt and drinking plenty of fluids, the swelling could indicate hypothyroidism. When the thyroid is underactive, it produces less of the hormones that regulate metabolism and help your body function properly. When metabolism slows, the result is typically water accumulation and weight gain. “One of the first places you see that excess water is in the fingers,” says endocrinologist Kenneth Blanchard. “You can feel it too; your fingers feel stiff because they don’t bend as easily.” If your fingers remain swollen for a few days, you may want to ask your doctor for a routine thyroid check.
Small red stripes under the nails
Tiny lines that look like red or brown splinters stuck under the nails are called splinter hemorrhages, minute areas of bleeding that can signal an infection in the blood or heart. Splinter hemorrhages occur when tiny blood clots block the flow of blood in the capillaries beneath the fingernails and toenails, which is an warning sign of an infection in the heart valves called subacute bacterial endocarditis. If you have these small stripes under your nails and you’ve never been diagnosed with a heart condition, the splinter hemorrhages could be the result of injuries to the hands or some other factor. Take your temperature to see if you have a fever, as bacterial endocarditis is typically accompanied by a low-grade fever. If you are concerned about this symptom, call your doctor and have your heart tested.
Thick, rounded fingertips
Thickened fingertips that angle out above the last knuckle like miniature clubs is called “clubbing,” and may be a sign of heart or lung disease. If the circulatory systems of the lungs or heart are impaired, oxygen levels in the blood may drop. Over time, this can cause the soft tissues of the pads on the fingertips to grow, so fingertips appear to bulge outward. If you have clubbed fingers or toes, you may have noticed other symptoms like chronic cough or shortness of breath. Clubbing also occurs with a condition called aortic valve disease, which can cause chest pain and fatigue. It may be a good idea to see your doctor for a full heart and lung evaluation, and be sure to tell your doctor how long you have been experiencing these symptoms.
Fingertips that are blue
If your fingertips are tinged with gray or blue, or if they feel numb, it may be a sign of a circulatory condition called Raynaud’s disease or Raynaud’s syndrome. Raynaud’s causes sudden temporary spasms in the arteries and blood vessels, causing a narrowing that constricts blood flow to the hands and fingers. In addition to a bluish tinge, symptoms of this condition may include numb fingertips and cold hands, due to decreasing circulation. Between five and ten percent of people have Raynaud’s syndrome, which typically gets worse in cold weather and can be brought on by increased stress. Over time, this condition can restrict circulation to the point of causing serious tissue damage. The best way to prevent Raynaud’s attacks is to make lifestyle changes to promote healthy circulation.