Hands are one of the most important parts of our body when it comes to day-to-day activities; without them we cannot cut vegetables, grip pliers, or text our friends.
They are revealing too. Not only do scars and age spots recount our personal history but mystics all the way back to prehistory have "read" our futures in their lines and whorls.
But what if your hands could say more about you than that? What if you could discover early signs of dangerous diseases you didn't yet know you had? We have enough scientific evidence to believe that hands can tell you a great deal about circulation, hormones, and thyroid function. And new research shows they contain vital details about your health including clues to hidden diseases such as cancer.
EHC brings you the hand signals and conditions you should look for to keep a check on your health.
Blotchy red palms
If your palms remain reddened over a long period of time, this may be a condition called palmar erythema, which is a sign of liver disease, particularly of cirrhosis and nonalcoholic fatty liver. An exception is that if you are pregnant, red palms are normal, because increased blood flow causes redness in more than half of expecting women.
Inflammation of the liver gradually begins to impair its function, so it is no longer able to flush waste products out of the body as efficiently. The result is an excess of circulating hormones, which in turn cause the blood vessels in the hands and feet to dilate, making them visible through the skin. Show your doctor your hands and feet and ask for liver function tests. The most common tests for liver function are a bilirubin count and a liver enzyme count.
Comparative finger length can tell you a surprising amount about your likelihood of having certain conditions. Typically, men's ring fingers tend to be longer than their index fingers, while in women it's the opposite. Women who have a "masculinized" pattern, with ring fingers longer than their index fingers, are twice as likely to suffer from osteoarthritis. A study found osteoarthritis of the knees to be more common in both men and women with longer ring fingers, but the effect was most pronounced in women. Longer index fingers, on the other hand, are associated with a higher risk of breast cancer in women and with a lower risk of prostate cancer in men. A 2010 study found that men whose index fingers were noticeably longer than their ring fingers were 33 percent less likely to develop prostate cancer.
Scientists are not sure, but they believe finger length is affected by exposure to varying amounts of the hormones testosterone and estrogen in the womb. Longer ring fingers indicate greater prenatal exposure to testosterone, while longer index fingers suggest higher estrogen exposure. Since breast cancer is estrogen-fueled, longer index fingers correlate with higher breast cancer. In men, more testosterone is linked to a higher incidence of prostate cancer, since one fuels the other. As for the osteoarthritis connection, scientists don't have a clear explanation yet but think it may have something to do with the way hormones affect early bone growth.
If your fingers feel thick and stiff or your rings still won't fit after several days of drinking plenty of fluids and cutting back on salt , the swelling could suggest hypothyroidism.
When the thyroid is underactive, it produces less of the important hormones that regulate your metabolism and keep your body functioning properly. And when metabolism slows, the result is typically weight gain and water accumulation. One of the first places you see that excess water is in the fingers.
Ask your doctor for a routine thyroid check, which is a blood test that measures the level of thyroid-stimulating hormone, or TSH. Make sure your doctor is aware of new screening guidelines, which state that TSH level should be between 0.3 and 3.0.
If your nails stay white more than a minute after you press on them or look pale all the time, this can be a sign of anemia. Anemia, or iron deficiency, causes pale nails when there aren't enough red blood cells circulating in the bloodstream. If uncorrected over time, severe iron deficiency can also cause the nails to have a slightly concave shape.
Iron deficiency can lead to fatigue or, in serious cases, heart problems, so you will want to alert your doctor. You can try treating anemia yourself by increasing your dietary intake of iron-rich foods, like such as red meat, spinach and other dark greens, and nuts, but you'll probably need to take an iron supplement too.
Tiny red stripes under the nails
Called splinter hemorrhages because they look like tiny red or brownish splinters under the nails, these are minute areas of bleeding that can signal infection in the heart or blood. Because they run in the direction of nail growth, they resemble splinters that got stuck under the nail.
Splinter hemorrhages happen when tiny blood clots block blood flow in the capillaries beneath the nails. They most often occur with an infection of the heart valves called subacute bacterial endocarditis. This condition typically occurs in someone with a heart murmur or underlying infection.
Take your temperature to see if you have a fever. Bacterial endocarditis is typically accompanied by a low-grade fever. If you've never had your heart checked and are concerned about these symptoms, call your doctor for a checkup.
Thick, rounded fingertips
Known as "clubbing," thickened fingertips that angle out above the last knuckle like miniature clubs can be a sign of heart or lung disease.
If the circulatory systems of the heart or lungs are impaired, oxygen levels in the blood are likely to drop. Over time, this causes the soft tissues of the fingertip pads to grow, so fingertips (and the ends of toes) appear to bulge outward.
Fingertips that are gray- or blue-tinged or feel numb can be a sign of a circulatory disorder known as Raynaud's disease or Raynaud's syndrome.
Raynaud's syndrome causes sudden temporary spasms in the blood vessels and arteries. The narrowed arteries constrict blood flow to the hands and fingers, decreasing circulation. Symptoms include cold hands and numb fingertips, in addition to a bluish tinge.
More Information from your Hands
Do you drink too much coffee?
How much caffeine we can tolerate varies from person to person. Cold, clammy palms could mean you're having too much. Clamminess is a sign that your body is in a nervous state – and caffeine aggravates that. Hot, sweaty palms are a classic sign of an overactive thyroid, which sends the metabolism into overdrive.
Are you prone to joint problems?
Bony lumps on fingers are a sign of osteoarthritis elsewhere in the body – the pea-sized lumps, known as Heberden's nodes, are painful to touch and found around the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis sufferers may develop beading on the nails that looks like candle wax dripping down. This is caused by vasculitis, or inflammation of the blood vessels under the nail bed, triggered by the arthritis.
Is there enough fluid in your body?
Locate the crease at the base of your little finger, and press the fleshy pad above this with your thumb. A bubble should pop up under the skin on the wrist side of the crease. A small bubble indicates you are well hydrated. No bubble means you are dehydrated and need to drink more, but a big bubble is a sign of fluid retention. Cut down on salt, and assess whether you are drinking too much water – your body has to process it, and may be struggling.
For reflexologists, who believe our emotional health is reflected in our hands, red hands mean you are fiery – either passionate or angry. White is a sign that you bottle up your emotions, and yellow is a sign of toxicity, which could be due to a bad diet. Hard skin, especially just below the fingers, suggests you are building a protective barrier.
Go ahead, take a good look at your hands. If you see anything suspicious, contact your doctor.