Years ago, doctors used to look at your hands to help determine the state of your general health.
Nowadays, doctors with their modern tests and sophisticated techniques for finding health problems, have largely ignored hands and the signals they give out about your general health.
But your hands can tell you so much, if only you know where to look.
The skin color and texture, the nail color and texture, and even the shape of your fingers are all pointers to your general health.
Did you ever wonder why sometimes the doctor would look at your hands if they suspect anaemia?
Your fingernails and the sensitive skin in the inside of your eyelids both show a pallor when you do not have enough oxygen carrying cells in your blood.
Your hands can tell you so much, if only you know what to look for.
Red or blotchy red patches on the palms of your hands can be a sign of liver disease. If you find that the palms of your hands are red more often than not, and you have not been doing a lot of heavy work with your hands, you may wish to rule out liver involvement.
If the liver is no longer functioning as well as it should be and not flushing toxins from the body, then those toxins increase in the blood stream, causing the blood vessels in the hands and feet to dilate, resulting in red blotches in the palms, known as palmar erythema.
A large percentage of pregnant women also have red palms and this is nothing to worry about, as it is caused by increased blood vessel activity.
Red palms can also be indicative of the start of eczema or a topical allergy.
Hairs on the Palms of Your Hands
As the old joke goes, this is the second sign of madness.
The first sign of madness is, of course, actually looking for hairs on the palms of you hands!
Your palms and the soles of your feet are probaby the only places in the human body that doesn't have hair follicles.
Swollen Hands and Fingers
Sometimes hand swelling is only slight and not obvious to the casual observer, but if it is your hands, you should feel it.
Your rings will feel tighter, your joints will feel stiff. Your hands will be more difficult to use in normal everyday activity, and if you are a typist, like me, you will find it hard to type.
Fluid in the hands could be a sign of kidney or liver disease if the rest of your body is also slightly swollen, but if it is only the hands, then it could be a sign of an under-active thyroid gland.
Other signs and symptoms could include dry hair and skin, slow-wittedness (you have trouble remembering things, or taking things in - your thought processes are clouded), weight gain and possibly depression.
A simple blood test can rule hypothyroidism out.
Other reasons for have swollen hands can include eating something salty, travelling by aircraft or simply being pre-menstrual.
Blue or White Fingers
Fingers that periodically turn blue or white, especially after touching something cold, are almost certainly indicative of Raynaud's Disease.
This is a strange and apparently harmless phenomenon which affects women more than men.
The blood vessels go into spasm and close off almost completely to the extremities, resulting in white or blue fingers, and numbness.
It does not necessarily affect every finger, but once you start getting it, it is always the same fingers that are affected.
If you are a suffered of Raynaud's Disease, the answer is to wear gloves in cold weather, and avoid touching anything cold.
Fingers which are permanently blue are indicative of lung orheart disease, but by the time you have blue hands, you will have some pretty obvious other signs too, like difficulty breathing, and in fact may be be on medicated oxygen by the time you suffer from blue hands.
Clubbing of Fingers
People who suffer from lung or heart problems over an extended period of time suffer from clubbing of the fingers.
Instead of the tips of the fingers tapering off as they should do, the tips splay out and become thickened.
The nails become spoon shaped and bulge outwards.
You are unlikely to be able to detect ill health from this alone, as by the time someone has developed clubbed fingers, they will already have presented with breathing difficulties and no doubt have been treated or are undergoing treatment.
It is handy to recognize this sign should you find someone collapsed in the street, as they may well be asthmatic and in need of an inhaler.
What Your Nails Can Tell You About Your Health
- White nails are a sign of liver disease.
- Yellow nails can mean diabetes or it can be a sign of a fungal disease.
- Half-pink, half-white nails can mean kidney disease.
- Little bruises, or odd marks like red splodges under the fingernails is a sign of endocarditis which is a heart disease.
- Dry, brittle nails that split easily can be a sign of thyroid deficiency.
If when you press down on the whites of your nails, the color does not immediately return to pink when you remove the pressure, you may have anaemia.
If the nail beds are white you may have anaemia.
If the nail beds are red, you may have heart disease.
Typically, men have a longer ring finger than index finger, while women tend to have a longer index finger.
That is generally-speaking of course, and there are many variations in between.
However, studies carried out by doctors have shown that women whose index finger is shorter than their ring finger are statistically more likely to suffer from osteo-arthritis and polycystic ovarian disease, but their risk of heart disease is lowered.
For people with longer index fingers, the risk of breast cancer increases for women, and the risk of prostate cancer is lowered for men.
it's good to know what risk category you fall under, to keep a closer eye on throughout your life.
Finger Lengths and Sexual Orientation
Scientists at the University of California in Berkeley carried out a study into the finger lengths of 720 people on the streets of San Francisco.
Lesbian women had a much higher ratio of what is considered a male arrangement, with shorter index fingers.
Homosexual males were harder to tell, the only conclusive finding was that there was a significant number of males with an especially shorter index finger - shorter than the average - who also had several older (straight) brothers.
From this, scientists deduct that higher levels of androgen produced in the womb lead to someone's sexual orientation, and that there must be some triggering genetic factor that led to their mother's producing more androgen than in previous births.
Further studies would need to be carried out into this fascinating find, but this would include measuring androgen levels pre-natally, and such a test has not yet been invented.
Early Signs of Arthritis in Hands
As we use our hands for almost everything we do, it is important to note the early sign of arthritis developing in our hands, especially as we grow older.
Arthritis is a crippling disease and the soonest caught, the soonest treated so that it never becomes life-changing, or that time is delayed by many years.
The first signs of arthritis developing are;
- Nodules appearing on the finger joints. We feel feel them as little raised bony areas.
- Inflammation - the areas around the joints become swollen and feel warm to touch.
- Pain - our hands hurt when we move them, especially around the joints.
- Stiffness - we find it increasingly difficult to manipulate our hands the way we used to.
if you notice any of the above happening to you, visit your doctor as many modern medications can delay if not stop the condition which quickly become debilitating and life-changing if left untreated.
FullOfLoveSites from United States on May 01, 2013:
Very useful guide, I'm gonna bookmark this. Thank you! Up and useful.
Isabel Melville (author) from Planet Earth on April 17, 2013:
I've got one leg longer than the other, but it is not noticeable to anyone except me. If you look carefully, most folk will find that their left side does not match their right. It's just how we are made - individual body parts even on the same body!
Nicole S Hanson from Minnesota on April 17, 2013:
Very interesting. I was trying to follow along when I realized my right hand index finger is longer than my ring finger. But on my left hand, my ring finger is longer than my index finger. Oye.
Isabel Melville (author) from Planet Earth on April 18, 2012:
Yes it is quite fascinating to learn just what our hands can really tell us about our health, and even more fascinating to learn that physicians of old knew all this, and that modern medicine is only playing catch-up!
Karla Iverson from Oregon on April 17, 2012:
Very useful and interesting information. Thank you. I became interested in fingernails and what they tell about health when an aunt was told by a friend that her fingernail condition was a sign of diabetes - as you show in your hub - and her doctor confirmed that she had it. I broke my wrist very badly several years ago, and my fingernails stopped growing as my bones needed resources to mend. That left an odd horizontal dent across my fingernails. I looked it up and found that being injured, malnourished or ill could cause it. So the hands do tell us a lot.
Isabel Melville (author) from Planet Earth on February 20, 2012:
Thanks Nomilit, sorry I didn't reply sooner - I never got notified of your comment!
Nicolette Goff from British Columbia on November 13, 2011:
Useful information! Great hub.