Nail disorders are not just unsightly, they can be a window to systemic disorders. Abnormalities – such as spots, discoloration and nail separation – can result from injuries to the fingers and hands, viral warts, infections and some medications.

These abnormalities should not be ignored. You should consult your dermatologist if you have any questions about changes in your nails.

Q. Lately I’ve noticed a few white spots on my nails. What’s causing this?

A. Non-uniform white spots or lines on the nail are called leukonychia. They’re usually the result of a minor trauma and are harmless, but they can also be associated with poor health or nutritional deficiencies – as well as certain drugs.

Q. Why do the tips of my nails have dark circles?

A. This is called Terry’s nails. It’s often due to aging, but it can also be caused by congestive heart failure, diabetes or liver disease.

Q. My nails have raised ridges and scoop outwards. What is this?

A. This condition is called Koilonychia or “spooning.” Spooning can be a sign that you may have one of the following: iron deficiency anemia, heart disease, hemochromatosis (a liver disorder that causes too much iron to be absorbed from food), lupus erythematosus (an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation), hypothyroidism, or Raynaud’s disease (a condition that limits your blood circulation).

Q. Why are my nails so thick? They actually curve around the top of my fingers.

A. This is called “clubbing.” It can be the result of low oxygen in the blood, and may signal the following conditions: cardiovascular diseases, inflammatory bowel disease, liver diseases, pulmonary diseases, or AIDS.

Q. What does it mean when the nail separates from the nail bed?

A. This is called onycholysis, and may be caused by infection, trauma, or products used on the nails.

Other causes for onycholysis include psoriasis or thyroid disease.

Q. Why are my nails yellow?

A. Yellow nail syndrome is when the nails get thicker and don’t grow as fast as normal. Sometimes the nail lacks a cuticle and might even pull away from the nail bed. This can be the result of internal malignancies, lymphedema (swelling of the hands), pleural effusions (fluid buildup between the lungs and chest cavity), respiratory illnesses such as chronic bronchitis or sinusitis, or rheumatoid arthritis.

Nail disorders could be a sign of something more serious, although not necessarily proof of any medical condition. Call a dermatologist to schedule a consultation to learn if your condition is serious.

Dr. Oswald Lightsey Mikell, certified by the American Board of Dermatology and the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, is the owner of Dermatology Associates of the Lowcountry.