Read your hands to know your diseases, new research says

September 30th, 2008 - 4:12 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Sep 30 (IANS) Do you have club fingers? Then it’s possible you may have lung cancer. A new study in the latest issue of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine reveals your hands can provide clues to hidden diseases you may have.Researchers came to this conclusion after studying the palms of a woman tested positive for ovarian cancer.

A 74-year-old woman who was otherwise healthy sought medical help for hard lumps that had developed on her palms. These had gradually spread and joined together, giving the palm a ‘wooden’ feeling, making movement difficult and painful.

Doctors could not find anything obviously wrong, but she was tested for - and diagnosed with - ovarian cancer after they read medical literature and found that the lumps (called palmar fasciitis) were a rare sign of the disease.

Why a tumour has this effect on hands remains a mystery. But one theory is that cancer cells pump out chemicals that trigger fibrosis, or scarring of tissue.

The study’s author, Graham Easton, who has a special interest in hands, says they can provide essential clues on a patient’s well-being.

“I always try to shake hands when I meet a patient for the first time,” Easton, a family doctor in London, told the Daily Mail.

“I’m not being polite - their hands are packed with information about their general health, from whether they might have a thyroid problem to signs of osteoarthritis. In fact, doctors can often tell more about someone’s health by their hands than their face.”

Here are some hand signals you should look for to keep a check on your health.

Club fingers: If the tips of your fingers are dome-shaped or look like small clubs, it could be a warning sign of serious diseases such as lung cancer, TB or mesothelioma - a deadly lung disease linked to asbestos. It is due to the build-up of a substance called PGE2 which helps dampen down inflammation in the lungs. It is thought lung tumours send production of PGE2 into overdrive, churning out 10 times the amount the body needs. It builds up in the finger tips and causes swelling.

Blue fingernails: They look blue as the body is low on oxygen because blood is not being pumped round the body properly. Called cyanosis, this condition can be a warning sign for a heart failure. Oxygen-poor blood is not actually blue. It just appears less bright through the nails than red oxygen-rich blood.

Two-tone nails: Nails that are a pale white on the bottom half, nearest the skin, but a brownish shade on the top half, could be a sign of kidney failure. It’s thought to be due to a build up of urea - a waste product normally processed by the kidneys but which here crystallises under the skin and nails.

Sweaty palms: Hot and sweaty palms are a sign of hyperthyroidism. With an overactive thyroid, the body uses up more calories and generates more heat. Feeling hot and sweaty all the time is a classic symptom.

Beaded nails: If you have tiny beads on your nails that resemble candle wax dripping downwards, it could be a sign of rheumatoid arthritis, even if your joints have not become swollen or painful. The cause is thought to be vasculitis, inflammation of the blood vessels under the nail bed, triggered by the arthritis.

Bony lumps on fingers: Bony pea-sized lumps that are painful to the touch around the joints of the fingers can be a marker for osteoarthritis elsewhere in the body, such as hips or knees.

Fatty knuckles: Lumps of cholesterol deposits - known as tendon xanthoma - over the knuckles are one of the signs of a potentially fatal condition called familial hypercholesterolaemia. These are hard, yellowy bumps that protrude when you clench your fist.

Reddened palms: It is a sign of liver cirrhosis. Called palmar erythema, this reddening usually affects the outer edge of the palm, near the little finger. Blood vessels in the skin dilate due to changes in the hormone balance caused by liver disease.

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