Doctors don’t have to be palm readers to make incredible predictions about your health. Your hands speak volumes, especially when something’s not working right. Their form, function, and appearance can offer important prognostic and diagnostic clues.
Changes in the way your hands look and feel could be symptoms of a range of illnesses.
Believe it or not, the way your hands look and feel can reveal many hidden problems, from poor circulation to liver disease.
They’re often the first part of our bodies to show signs of ageing, but small changes in our hands, such as red palms or dry skin, can offer clues to a lot more besides.
My Medical Mantra spoke to a few health experts to know their opinion about this matter.
Dr Prakash Marathe, former president, Indian Medical Association, Pune branch, said, “It is true that by looking at the hands of the patient a doctor can identify the symptoms of the disease. If the haemoglobin level in the blood is reduced, the colour of the hand turns to pale white. Also, in case if a person is suffering from respiratory ailments the symptoms can be visible by looking at the nails. By monitoring the finger movements we can identify whether the patient is suffering from any muscle issue. The changed colour of the hands and nails does indicate the disease.”
Weak hand grip
In business, a wimpy handshake says something about your personality. In medicine, it can be a sign of deteriorating health.
Decreased grip strength coupled with a slow gait may actually portend a higher risk of death from heart disease in the elderly, according to a 2016 review in the International Journal of Cardiology.
Though usually a sign of poor circulation, chilly hands can also be a symptom of low blood pressure, an underactive thyroid or Raynaud’s disease.
While speaking to My Medical Mantra, Dr Darshan Kalal, Medical Officer, Mukti Health centre, Dhule, said, “When the patient first comes for the health check-up, we examine his hands. Palms and nail examination helps us to identify the disease. Colour of the palms shows whether the patient is suffering from nutritional issues. Lack of haemoglobin, liver and other diseases can be identified with the examination of the hands. The colour of nails also reveal a lot.”
These are a sign of liver damage, especially in the over-50s. Called palmar erythema, the redness usually affects the outer edge of the palms in a band from the wrist to the little finger.
Red palms can also be a sign of an overactive thyroid or rheumatoid arthritis.
These can be a sign of stress or, again, an overactive thyroid, which causes the body to heat up. But they may also be a result of too much alcohol, or hyperhidrosis – aka excess sweating – which tends to run in families.
A tremor in just one hand can be the first symptom of Parkinson’s disease (about 80% of people with Parkinson’s have a tremor), or it can indicate essential tremor, a disorder that causes uncontrollable shaking and is treatable with therapy or medication.
Lumps on fingers
What lumps on your fingers could mean: Hard, bony nodules around the finger joints are a common sign of osteoarthritis.
While Dr Aakash Waghmare, General Physician, Mumbai, “If the shape of the nails is not normal, one can identify that the patient is suffering from anaemia. If the colour of the nails is yellow, then it is related to liver disease. A few patients have a shaky and sweaty hands, this condition is related to thyroid ailments.”
White nails: While pale nails mean anaemia or heart failure, white ones may indicate liver disease, such as hepatitis.
Bluish nails: Nails with a tinge of blue usually means that your body isn’t getting enough oxygen, or it could also be a sign of a lung problem. There are also heart problems connected to bluish nails.
Yellow nails: Usually, yellow nails are a sign of fungal infection. As the condition gets worse, the nail bed usually retracts as the nail itself crumbles. Yellow nails can also mean lung disease, diabetes, or a thyroid disease.
People who aren’t eating well and have a vitamin or dietary deficiencies may have thinner than normal nails, which are more likely to break.