Welcome to Buoy Health

Learn about your brittle fingernails, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your brittle fingernails from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

Brittle Fingernails Checker

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having brittle fingernails.

Take a quiz
Your Brittle Fingernails May Also be Known as:
Breaking nails
Brittle nails
Cracking nails
Fragile nails

Brittle Fingernails Symptoms

Like most people, you probably take your nails for granted. Toe nails. Finger nails. You might be good at trimming, painting or otherwise decorating them. It seems to be the aesthetics that concern you from day-to-day. How often to you give your nails credit for protecting the tips of your fingers? Or helping you pick up small objects? Until…

Your nails become brittle. You can't scratch your head without breaking them. Your dexterity is limited. You think they will heal, but in the meantime, you consider it to be a cosmetic concern. Or is it something more than that?

In addition to being brittle, your nails might also be:

  • rough
  • pitted
  • weak
  • dry
  • frayed and torn
  • discolored
  • slow growing

Nails, skin, hair, and sweat and oil glands are all part of your integumentary system. Your integumentary system holds you together. It prevents an excess loss of fluid from your body and helps your body regulate temperature. It protects all that is inside from all that is outside. But when your nails are brittle, it might not be just about your nails.

Brittle Fingernails Causes Overview

Inflammatory conditions and autoimmune disorders:

  • Brittle nails can be a symptom of an underlying inflammatory condition, such as lichen planus or psoriasis. Alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder, can also cause nails to be brittle. Inflammatory and autoimmune conditions can also involve your hair, skin and mucous membranes (like the inside of your nose or your lips).

Environmental exposures:

  • Frequent, prolonged exposure to water can cause brittle fingernails. In fact, water exposure is the most common cause of brittle nails. Whereas skin is waterproof, nails are absorbent and become brittle with repeated wetting and drying. Swimmers are susceptible to brittle nails, as are dish washers.

Frequent use of nail care products (especially nail polish remover - acetone or otherwise) can be harmful to your nails.

  • Many of these products are dehydrating, and can make your finernails brittle. Household or industrial cleaning products can be absorbed by your nails, causing injury including brittleness.

Nutritional:

  • Poor nutrition, from disordered eating (such as anorexia or bulimia), malnutrition, or protein, iron or calcium deficiency takes its toll on your health, and shows – on your skin, hair and nails.
  • Interestingly enough, it is an excess of dietary selenium – found naturally in seafood, muscle meat, organ meat, grains and cereals - that leads to brittle nails. Taking too high a dose of selenium supplements can have the same effect.

Other:

  • Brittle fingernails are not always caused by medical conditions, environmental exposures or nutritional deficiencies or excesses. Sometimes, it is just about your nails. Sometimes, it's genetic. Sometimes, it is simply due to the normal aging process.
  • And, brittle nails are common in children – especially boys. In childhood, nails can be brittle for no apparent reason. While unsightly, childhood brittle nails are usually not associated with any underlying condition, and resolves on its own after several years.

Top 10 Brittle Fingernails Causes

  1. 1.Iron Deficiency Anemia

    Anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells, which deliver oxygen. Iron deficiency anemia occurs when the body does not have enough iron. Iron helps make red blood cells.

    You should visit your primary care physician, who will take a blood test to confirm diagnosis. Treatment involves iron supplementation (pills) or transfusion in really extreme cases (not likely).

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, shortness of breath, dizziness, heavy menstrual flow
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Hypothyroidism

    Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid, a butterfly-shaped organ inside the neck, no longer produces adequate levels of hormones. Thyroid hormones are essential for many bodily functions including breathing, heart rate, and metabolism.

    You should visit your primary care physician. Hypothyroidism is a complex condition that is usually treated with hormone replacement therapy.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, weight gain, muscle aches
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.Graves' Disease

    The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ inside the neck that is responsible for making thyroid hormones. These hormones control important body functions, such as heart rate and the rate at which the body turns food into energy. In Grave's disease, the immune system malfunctions and drives the thyroid to produce excessive amounts of hormones, leading to symptoms such as trouble sleeping, irritability and nervousness, heat sensitivity, hand tremors, and weight loss.

    You should visit your primary care physician to get your blood tested. Grave's disease is a complex condition that is managed with prescription antithyroid medications, as well as surgery in rare cases.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, irritability, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Panic Disorder

    Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder. It causes panic attacks, which are sudden feelings of terror without true danger. One may feel as if they are losing control or have physical symptoms like sweating or a racing heart.

    You should go see your primary care doctor, who can diagnose you by interview. Most people get better with treatment. Therapy can show you how to recognize and change your thinking patterns before they lead to panic. Medication may be beneficial.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    nausea, anxiety, abdominal pain (stomach ache), stomach bloating, depressed mood
    Symptoms that always occur with panic disorder:
    anxiety, impaired social or occupational functioning
    Symptoms that never occur with panic disorder:
    agoraphobia
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  5. 5.Low Calcium Level

    Hypocalcemia is a condition where there is not enough calcium in the blood. Calcium is a mineral contained in the blood, which helps the heart and other muscles function properly, and is needed to maintain strong teeth and bones.

    You should seek advice and a blood test from your primary care physician. To treat hypocalcemia, take a calcium and vitamin D supplement daily, and increase consumption of dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt. You should also avoid drinking too many soft drinks, which contain phosphates - a chemical that can interfere with the body's ability to absorb calcium. Avoiding salty foods is also helpful, as salt makes the body lose calcium.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, shortness of breath, irritability, general numbness, tingling foot
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

    Brittle Fingernails Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having brittle fingernails.

    Take a quiz
  6. 6.Depression

    Depression is a mental disorder in which a person feels constantly sad, hopeless, discouraged, and loses interest in activities and life on more days than not. These symptoms interfere with daily life, work, and friendships.

    Contact your primary care physician to assess how urgent you should plan a visit to further discuss your symptoms. It is likely a referral to a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health professional will be given. Treatment may include counseling, lifestyle changes, and medication.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, depressed mood, anxiety, irritability, headache
    Symptoms that always occur with depression:
    depressed mood
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Fibromyalgia

    Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes widespread pain, tenderness, and fatigue.

    Fibromyalgia is treated symptomatically. Medication, therapy, and stress reduction may reduce symptoms.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, anxiety, trouble sleeping, depressed mood, headache
    Symptoms that always occur with fibromyalgia:
    hidden: arthralgias or myalgias
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.New Onset Crohn's Disease

    Crohn's disease is a disorder caused by chronic inflammation in the digestive tract. The damaging inflammation causes abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss, and malnutrition.

    You should schedule an appointment with your primary care physician within a few days to start diagnostic tests and discuss if a referral to a specialist is needed.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, stomach bloating, loss of appetite, constipation, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps)
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  9. 9.Sarcoidosis

    Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease that most often affects the lungs and skin, but can als affect the joints.

    You should visit your physician to discuss your symptoms when convenient.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, joint pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  10. 10.Mild Chronic Depression (Dysthymia)

    Dysthymia, also called persistent depressive disorder, is a form of depression that is chronic. The causes of dysthymia are complex, and often are a combination of biological, genetic, and environmental factors. Dysthymia can interfere with everyday life, and people with this condition report feeling loss of interest in their daily activities, sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of energy.

    You should visit your primary care physician who will likely coordinate care with a psychologist or psychiatrist. Dysthymia is treated similarly to depression with therapy and antidepressant medication.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    depressed mood, fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbance
    Symptoms that always occur with mild chronic depression (dysthymia):
    depressed mood
    Symptoms that never occur with mild chronic depression (dysthymia):
    severe sadness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Brittle Fingernails Treatments and Relief

Seek medical care if you have brittle fingernails and:

Unless you have an underlying medical condition, keeping your fingernails healthy is mostly a matter of good nutrition and hygiene.

Approaches to a healthy diet and proper nail hygiene are listed below.

  • Nutrition

    • Eat a balanced diet, based on lean proteins, fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Avoid "junk food."
    • Iron and calcium deficiencies are easily addressed by taking supplements.
    • Biotin, as a supplement, can help to strengthen brittle nails.
  • Hygiene

    • Keep your nails trimmed.
    • Avoid biting your nails and picking at your cuticles
    • Resist the urge to change your nail color every few days; it is best to wait at least a week between manicures and pedicures
    • Avoid picking off your nail polish as this takes a layer of cells off of your nails

If these measures fail, see your primary care provider or a dermatologist (one who specializes in nails would be most helpful).

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Brittle Fingernails

  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Is your fatigue getting any better or worse?
  • Q.Do you currently smoke?
  • Q.How long has your fatigue been going on?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, check our brittle fingernails symptom checker.

Take a quiz

Brittle Fingernails Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced brittle fingernails have also experienced:

    • 7% Fatigue
    • 3% Hair Loss
    • 3% Dry Skin
  • People who have experienced brittle fingernails were most often matched with:

    • 13% Iron Deficiency Anemia
    • 10% Hypothyroidism
    • 10% Graves' Disease

Brittle Fingernails Checker

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having brittle fingernails.

Take a quiz