Terry's Nails: Symptoms, Causes, And Treatment

Have you noticed a change in your fingernail color? A color change in your fingernail can result from certain medical conditions or health complications. 

Terry's nails, a common nail discoloration condition, are characterized by heavily white-colored nails. Terry's nails are especially common in people with severe liver disease.

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What are Terry's nails?

Terry's nails are a nail condition where over ⅔ of the nail bed appears white except for a red or pink strip at the nail tip. Scientifically, Terry's nails are a type of apparent leukonychia.

The condition is characterized by ground glass opacification of almost the entire nail, obliteration of the lunula, as well as a thin band of normal, pink/red nail bed at the distal border.

In some cases, Terry's nails can be attributed to aging. However, in some instances, it can be a sign of a severe underlying condition, such as diabetes, kidney failure, congestive heart failure, or liver disease.

What liver disease causes white nails?

Terry's nails get their name from the doctor, who initially discovered that the symptom happened along specific diseases and conditions. In the 1950s, Richard Terry discovered that 82 out of 100 individuals with severe liver scarring (cirrhosis) also developed white nails. Cirrhosis is the last stage of liver scarring caused by several forms of liver conditions and diseases, such as chronic alcoholism and hepatitis.

What causes Terry's nails?

According to medical experts, Terry's nails occur due to changes in blood vessels as well as connective tissue. However, the exact mechanism is yet to be elucidated. Despite not being harmful, Terry's nails should be evaluated by the doctor. This is because they can be a sign and symptom of a more severe issue and can be associated with several underlying health issues. 

Terry's nails are most common in people with liver disease, cirrhosis, or liver scarring. It can be linked to several other conditions, such as:

  • Viral hepatitis

  • HIV

  • Skin conditions like tuberculosis, leprosy, or vitiligo

  • Congestive heart failure

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Chronic kidney failure

  • Peripheral vascular disease

  • COVID-19¹

Additionally, Terry's nails can occur naturally as you age, despite not having any underlying health conditions.

How to treat Terry's nails

Terry’s nails often preamble a systemic disease. So while there is no specific Terry’s nails treatment, the condition can subside if the associated medical condition is treated. It is therefore highly recommended that you visit a healthcare provider for an assessment and therapy if you are exhibiting Terry's nails' signs and symptoms.

How to prevent Terry's nails

Unfortunately, preventing Terry's nails isn't guaranteed as it is related to an underlying illness. However, you can improve your general nail health by adhering to a few best practices, such as:

  • Trimming your toenail straight to prevent ingrown toenails

  • Moisturize your cuticles and nails with a hand cream or fragrance-free lotion

  • Regularly clean your nails using a soft-bristle nail brush

  • Avoid biting your nails or picking at hangnails

  • Wear properly fitting footwear that doesn't squeeze your toenails

When to call a doctor

It is important to visit a doctor for a comprehensive checkup in case you have Terry's nails. In some instances, Terry's nails are a result of old age. However, in most cases, it could point to a serious underlying medical condition. Scheduling a doctor's visit can help you tell the difference. 

In the case of an underlying medical condition, such as liver disease, the doctor will recommend the appropriate treatment solution.

The lowdown

Terry's nails are a type of discoloration resulting in the nails appearing washed out with a narrow brown or pink strip near the tip. The condition affects all fingernails, and in some cases, it can also affect toenails.

Terry's nails are common in people with liver diseases. Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for Terry's nails. Doctors can treat the underlying condition causing Terry's nails. Therefore, visit your doctor immediately if you notice the first signs of liver disease. 

Frequently asked questions

Where does the name Terry's nails come from?

The name Terry's nails originate from the doctor Richard Terry, who discovered that 82 out of 100 consecutive liver cirrhosis patients also had white nails.

Can Terry's nails go away?

Terry's nails can go away by treating the associated medical condition. For instance, the cutaneous changes characteristic of liver cirrhosis could well be reversed with a liver transplant if the underlying problem is liver cirrhosis.²

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