Should you be worried if your finger or toenails develop a blue or purple hue? The answer to that question depends upon a number of factors. In this article, we will discuss the potential causes of purple nail beds and offer sound advice to help you prevent or (in some cases) reverse them. Read on to learn more.
Why Your Doctor Examines Your Fingernails
The condition of your fingernails and toenails can provide very important clues to the state of your overall health. This is why doctors examine the nails as part of a routine physical exam.
Healthy nails should be a uniform shade of pink, but some illnesses cause nails to display a different color. For example, purple fingernails or fingernail beds may be an indicator of low hemoglobin levels and corresponding lack of oxygen in your bloodstream.
When you have bluish or purple skin under your nails or around your eyes, lips, and gums, you are exhibiting a condition known as cyanosis. This happens when your red blood cell (hemoglobin) count is low. This condition is also known as hypoxemia (or low oxygen).
Purple Nail Beds Can Be A Warning Sign
When you have enough oxygen in your blood, it is bright red in color. Lack of oxygen causes it to become blue or purple. This can also happen when you are exposed to very cold temperatures. When this is the case, the problem is temporary. When you warm up, your circulation should increase and your bluish lips, nails, and fingertips should become pink once more.
If you experience ongoing problems with dark colored nail beds, it may be an indication of a serious medical condition. For example, Raynaud’s disease (aka syndrome or phenomenon) can cause the low circulation in the fingers and toes. This causes the skin to whiten and the nail plates to become purplish.
Raynaud’s disease also causes extreme cold sensitivity in peripheral areas. If you have this disease, your fingers, toes, nose, lips, and earlobes will feel quite painful when exposed to cold air. Raynaud’s disease may or may not be a cause for concern. If you have it, a proper diagnosis and consultation with your doctor are essential to correct treatment.
Another disease that might cause a dark discoloration of the nail bed is melanoma. This is a very serious form of skin cancer that causes melanocytes (pigment cells) to grow abnormally. Usually, this form of cancer manifests as a dark, flat, irregularly shaped mole; however, it is possible (but not probable) for it to grow under a fingernail.
Fortunately, this manifestation of subungual melanoma is quite uncommon; however, there are lots of other conditions which may cause low circulation. Among them are:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Exposure to high altitudes
- Pulmonary embolism
- Chronic bronchitis
- Heart problems
Poor circulation may also be caused by reactions to some drugs. Among them are:
Additionally, if you are taking colloidal silver like this as a supplement, you may develop an irreversible condition known as argyria. This is marked by slate blue coloration just above the top of the nail bed. The skin above the “half-moon” at the top of your nails will appear bluish and slightly bruised.
If your problem is caused by a low hemoglobin count, you may be experiencing some other symptoms, such as shortness of breath, fatigue, and sleepiness. When your blood is short of oxygen, it takes a toll on your energy levels.
Other Causes Of Nail Discoloration
If you are not experiencing any other symptoms, your problem may be caused by something as simple as bruising. It is possible to injure yourself without realizing it. If only one or two nail beds are showing discoloration, this is probably the case. A bruise under the nail bed must simply grow out. This can take quite a bit of time.
Some types of fungal infection can cause darkening of the nails. If you have had problems with athlete’s foot, a nail bed infection is likely. If the discoloration is accompanied by itching and/or rash, this is very likely.
How Can You Avoid and/or Treat Purple Nail Beds?
Discoloration of the nails can be an indication of injury or of quite a few illnesses and conditions. Luckily, the steps you would take to avoid or treat purple nail beds are also very smart lifestyle habits that will benefit your general health. Here are a few easy ideas.
Avoid Infections & Injuries
Keep your nail clippers, scissors and nail care equipment clean, and don‘t ever share these tools with anyone. Sharing nail care equipment or using tools that have not been properly cleaned can cause a fungal nail infection or a bacterial nail infection.
Keep your toe and fingernails trimmed and clean to avoid snagging and tearing them. Tears can lead to infection.
Avoid injuring your nail beds by wearing work gloves whenever you perform potentially hazardous tasks.
If you do get a bruise under your fingernail, you may be tempted to make a small hole in the nail to drain the pooled blood and relieve pressure; however, this is not a good idea as it could allow bacteria to enter.
It is smarter to simply allow the blood to coagulate and let the nail grow out at its own pace. Soaking your fingers in cold water or applying an ice pack may help with pain. If you are in a great deal of pain, see your doctor.
To relieve pain, you can take over the counter medicines such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and pain reliever medications.
Avoid Low Hemoglobin Count
Improve your diet to avoid iron-deficiency anemia which may cause purple nails and other nail problems. Because hemoglobin mostly consists of iron, adding iron to your diet will help boost your hemoglobin levels. Foods that contain high amounts of iron include:
- Red Meat
Be sure to also eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables for the vitamin C content and general health benefits. Some good choices include citrus fruits, berries, and dark green, leafy vegetables. Ideally, your diet should consist of about 50% fresh fruit and veggies.
Folic acid is also important for hemoglobin production. Foods that have high folic acid content include organ meats, bananas, and peanuts.
Take a high-quality multi-vitamin with iron, along with extra vitamin C (500-1000 mg daily) to help your body absorb the iron. Be sure that your multi-vitamin also contains copper, as this is essential for iron absorption. You may try Nature’s Way Alive Max Potency Multi-Vitamin Tablets to assist with hemoglobin production
Understand that you should not overdo iron intake from supplements. The amount found in a standard multi-vitamin supplement is ample in this format; however, you should also eat plenty of foods that are rich in natural iron.
While it is possible to cause liver damage with too much iron in supplement form, it is not possible to do so with natural iron in foods. Taking a multivitamin with a small amount of iron combined with high-iron foods is a great way to ensure you get plenty of iron to maintain well-oxygenated blood flow.
Watch Out For Circulatory System Problems
Establishing a healthy diet greatly benefits your circulatory system. The healthy foods recommended above are all heart healthy and promote good circulation. Other good choices include whole grains and low-fat dairy products.
Exercise also stimulates good circulation. Be sure to get half an hour of light to moderate exercise every day. While it’s most beneficial to get a good aerobic workout two or three times a week, you don’t have to do this daily. Just be sure to get a total of at least 30 minutes of some form of physical activity each day.
Walking, cycling, swimming, dancing, playing sports or engaging in any activity you enjoy daily is a great way to improve your circulation, boost your spirits and reap a wealth of health and well-being benefits.
Even on days when you are not able to get a full workout, be sure to get up and walk around occasionally during your workday. If you are stuck at a desk or on a bus, plane or train, extend your legs and point and flex your feet.
Keep a set of light weights at your desk, along with a rubber ball or a tennis ball. Use your weights for a few minutes at a time and squeeze the ball to help boost circulation in your shoulders, arms, and hands. You may also use some stress balls on a string for stress relief, hand exercise, and rehabilitation.
Watch Your Weight
Maintaining a healthy weight is essential to maintaining overall good health. Being excessively thin is just as unhealthy as being overweight. When you eat too little and do not maintain a balanced diet, you can become anemic. This causes a dearth of hemoglobin in your system and results in purple nail beds, among many other problems.
When you are overweight or eat an unhealthy diet, you increase your chances of heart disease, high cholesterol levels, arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure, diabetes, and general poor health. All of these cause or exacerbate poor circulation.
Consult with your doctor to determine the healthiest weight level for you and strive to stay within five pounds of that weight.
Develop Good Health Habits
Eat a whole foods diet that consists of about 50% fresh produce, 25% whole grains and 25% high-quality protein sources.
Drink lots of pure, filtered water. Good hydration is the basis of good health. Fresh, clean water keeps every aspect of your body working smoothly. It flushes out toxins and helps your blood circulate freely in your blood vessels while improving the condition of your joints, muscles, skin, hair, nails and every other part of your body.
Don’t eat processed foods. As a general rule, if it comes in a box or a can, it isn’t good for you. Eat whole, fresh foods as much as possible to improve your circulation and enjoy optimum health.
Don’t drink soft drinks. Sadly, in today’s society, many people rely on carbonated soft drinks for hydration. This is a very poor health choice as these beverages are filled with sugar, chemicals, artificial colors and flavors, and caffeine. They offer little or no benefits in terms of hydration, and they present your body with tremendous challenges in terms of coping with toxins.
Limit or eliminate alcohol consumption. While some health experts maintain that one drink a day can have health benefits, the negatives far outweigh the positives. Alcohol consumption generally has a negative impact on overall health because it lowers inhibitions and can cause people to make very poor dietary and lifestyle choices.
Alcohol processes as sugar in your system, so it adds a lot of calories and can be very detrimental for people struggling with hypertension and/or diabetes.
Don’t use tobacco products. The nicotine, pesticides, and chemicals found in tobacco are extremely hazardous to your health on a number of levels. According to the Mayo Clinic (and a vast array of other health professionals) use of tobacco products sharply increases your risk of cardiovascular disease. When your heart is unhealthy, your circulatory system is unhealthy. As we have seen, low circulation or lack of hemoglobin is the cause of purple nail beds.
When To See Your Doctor
In the absence of more serious symptoms, if your nail discoloration persists for more than a few days, and/or if you are in pain or experiencing distressing symptoms such as shortness of breath, you should see your doctor right away for a complete physical exam to determine the cause of your problem.
If your nail bed discoloration is a symptom of serious illness, it is probably not the first symptom. If you do have a serious condition, you are likely to also be experiencing breathing problems, fatigue or other signs of trouble.
Remember that cyanosis is caused by low oxygen in the blood. This, in turn, is caused by poor circulation, which may be a symptom of cardiovascular problems. In the United States, heart disease is one of the leading causes of death, so it is important not to ignore potential warning signs.