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Brittle fingernails: causes & therapy

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 227 views

Brittle fingernails can have very different causes. The spectrum ranges from vitamin deficiencies and various illnesses to contact with solvents or alkalis. Sometimes brittle, splitting nails occur for no apparent reason. Depending on the type of “nail breakage”, doctors distinguish between onychoschisis (flake-like splintering) and onychorrhexis (longitudinal fibrous splitting). Read more about common causes and treatment options for brittle fingernails here.

quick overview

  • What is behind brittle fingernails? e.g. B. nutrient deficiency, cleaning agents, mechanical force, various diseases
  • Which nutrient deficiency can make fingernails brittle? eg lack of calcium or of various vitamins (A, B, C, biotin or folic acid).
  • What to do with brittle fingernails? Depending on the cause, for example, a balanced diet, wearing gloves when washing dishes or handling detergents, using special nail polishes or creams, treating an underlying disease.

Brittle fingernails: causes and possible diseases

Brittle fingernails not only look ugly and are annoying – for example if you get caught on your own knitted sweater. They can also indicate a nutrient deficiency or a (serious) illness.

Common causes of brittle fingernails are:

  • Chemicals: Frequent contact with chemicals such as soaps, detergents, detergents, detergents or nail polish removers can cause brittle fingernails.
  • Incorrect care: If you file your fingernails roughly or press them together firmly with nail clippers, you can damage the nail structure. In addition, artificial nails and a manicure with gel colors can soften the horny layer and make it brittle.
  • Skin conditions: Brittle fingernails can sometimes be traced back to a skin condition such as nail fungus, psoriasis, eczema, or lichen planus (an inflammatory skin condition with itchy, reddish lumps).
  • Thyroid disorders: Both an underactive thyroid gland ( hypothyroidism ) and an underactive parathyroid gland (hypoparathyroidism) can be responsible for brittle fingernails.
  • other diseases of the endocrine system: They are also possible causes of brittle nails. This is especially true if other symptoms such as shaggy hair , general exhaustion, easy fatigue, sweating, tachycardia, changes in weight and blood pressure or dry skin also occur.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (chronic polyarthritis): Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory joint disease and the most common form of a rheumatic disease. Among other things, it can cause dull, brittle fingernails, nail growth disorders and minor bleeding under the nails.
  • Cytostatics (chemotherapy drugs): These drugs inhibit the growth of cells that multiply rapidly. They are mainly used in cancer therapy. A possible side effect of this chemotherapy can be thin, brittle fingernails.

What nutrient deficiency can cause brittle fingernails?

In addition to the causes mentioned above, some nutrient deficiencies can also be the reason for brittle fingernails. An undersupply of certain minerals or vitamins can lead to brittle nails:

  • Mineral deficiency: The reason for brittle fingernails can be a lack of calcium. If there are also cracks in the corners of the mouth (rhagades), paleness, tiredness, freezing, ringing in the ears and/or headaches, anemia due to iron deficiency (iron deficiency anemia) can be the cause.
  • Vitamin deficiency: Thin, brittle fingernails are sometimes a sign of a vitamin B, vitamin C, biotin, folic acid or cobalamin deficiency. A lack of vitamin A (retinol) also causes dry, splintering, brittle fingernails.

With vitamin A, not only a deficiency, but also an overdose can make the fingernails brittle.

Brittle fingernails: what to do?

With the following tips you can do something yourself against brittle fingernails or support the treatment of the underlying disease:

  • Balanced diet : A balanced diet is important for healthy, strong nails. It may be useful to take additional dietary supplements (e.g. biotin or silicon preparations). Ask your doctor about this.
  • Work Gloves : It is best to wear work gloves when working in water (washing dishes, mopping floors, etc.).
  • Proper Nail Trimming : Avoid aggressively clipping, tearing, biting, or pushing back the cuticle. Do not use nail scissors to shorten the nails, but a file, preferably a sandpaper file.
  • special nail care : Oil baths and hand packs are proven methods against brittle fingernails. To improve nail strength, you can use special preparations such as nail oil or nail cream. Vegetable oils such as almond and olive oil are also suitable for regular nail care.
  • Care cream after shower or bath : After the daily shower or bath, not only the skin is happy about a care cream – the nails also benefit from it.
  • Special nail polish : Special nail polishes can give brittle nails more strength by supplying minerals and a protective film. You should apply the water-soluble varnishes every day, ideally before going to bed. You can also use them under cosmetic nail polishes. However, if your nails are brittle, it can also make sense to forgo colorful painting for a while. Because before every new nail color, the old one has to be removed with nail polish remover. And it’s not good for your nails.
  • Alternative healing methods : Homeopathy recommends the remedy Silicea D 12 for brittle fingernails. Anyone who wants to treat brittle fingernails with Schuessler salts can try remedies no. An experienced naturopath or doctor will advise you on the selection and dosage of the preparations. Keep in mind: The specific effectiveness of homeopathic remedies or Schuessler salts has not been clearly proven by studies.

Home remedies and alternative healing approaches have their limits. If the symptoms persist over a longer period of time, do not improve or even get worse despite treatment, you should always consult a doctor.

Brittle fingernails: what does the doctor do?

In order to get to the bottom of the cause of brittle fingernails, the doctor will first have a detailed discussion with the patient about the medical history (anamnesis). He inquires, for example, about eating habits, possible contact with chemicals or any other complaints and illnesses.

The interview is followed by a physical exam , during which the doctor examines the nails more closely. If the anamnesis interview and the physical examination indicate an underlying disease as the cause of the brittle nails, further examinations can be useful:

For example, a blood test can identify anemia as a result of iron deficiency as the reason for brittle fingernails. A measurement of hormone levels in the blood and an ultrasound scan of the thyroid gland will help if the doctor suspects hypothyroidism behind the brittle fingernails. If nail fungus is suspected, the doctor will take a nail sample and examine it under a microscope.

This is how the doctor can treat brittle fingernails

If brittle fingernails are due to an underlying condition, treating them can also improve the strength of the nails. For example, iron supplements can help with iron deficiency anemia. In the case of nail fungus, special nail polishes or ointments with antifungal substances are effective.

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