You probably don’t think of your toes much unless someone steps on them. But your toes and toenails can tell you a lot about your health.
“The toes and toenails provide clues that there could be something going on that patients might not realize,” says Tracey Vlahovic, a clinical professor at the Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine in Philadelphia.
Doctors can underestimate the importance of your feet and toes, too. “I’ve had patients go for a skin check, and they’re not even told to take off their socks and shoes,” says Bryan C. Markinson, chief of podiatric medicine and surgery in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.
Step in where those doctors don’t: These seven changes to your toes or toenails could be a sign of disease or other medical issues.
Toes, toenails and health problems: 7 things to watch for
1. Concave toenails
Possible condition: Anemia
Some people are born with concave or “spoon” nails. But a case that appears out of the blue warrants a check.
If your toenails look scooped out, with an indentation big enough to hold a drop of water, it’s often a sign of anemia, Markinson says. That scooped-out nail could also be pointing to a range of autoimmune disorders or hypothyroidism.
2. Tingling, burning or numbness
Possible condition: Diabetes
Tingling, numbness or burning are classic signs of peripheral neuropathy caused by diabetes, Markinson says. High blood sugar injures nerves throughout the body, particularly the extremities. Loss of sensation is a key factor in the development of diabetic foot infections, Markinson says.
3. Dark vertical bands on the toenail or dark spots under the nail
Possible condition: Melanoma
On the foot, melanoma is most likely to develop on the big toe, but it can affect other toes and hide out between the digits, Markinson says. Acral melanoma is the most common type of melanoma among people of color.
Fortunately, “just 1 to 3 percent of those pigmented bands are malignant,” Markinson says.