What is the significance of Terry’s nails in my hospitalized patient?

Terry’s nails were first described in 1954 in patients with hepatic cirrhosis (prevalence 82%, majority related to alcohol abuse) (1). Since then, they have been reported in a variety of other conditions, including adult-onset diabetes mellitus (AODM), chronic congestive heart failure, chronic renal failure, pulmonary tuberculosis, and Reiter’s syndrome (2).

A 1984 study found Terry’s nails in 25% of hospitalized patients (3).  In this study, cirrhosis, chronic congestive heart failure, and AODM were significantly associated with Terry’s nails, while pulmonary tuberculosis, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer were not. The presence of Terry’s nails may be particularly concerning in patients 50 y of age or younger as it increases the relative risk of cirrhosis, chronic congestive heart failure or AODM by 5-fold (18-fold for cirrhosis alone) in this age group (3).

Terry’s nails should be distinguished from Lindsay’s nails or “half and half” nails. Although both nail abnormalities are characterized by an opaque white proximal portion, Terry’s nails have a thinner distal pink to brown transverse band no more than 3 mm wide (3) (Fig 1), while the same anomaly is wider and occupies 20%-60% of the nail bed in Lindsay’s nails (Fig 2). Of interest, Lindsay’s nails have been reported in up to 40% of patients with chronic kidney disease (4,5).

References

1. Terry R. White nails in hepatic cirrhosis. Lancet 1954;266:757-59. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/13153107 
2. Nia AM, Ederer S, Dahlem K, et al. Terry’s nails: a window to systemic diseases. Am J Med 2011;124:603-604. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21683827 
3. Holzberg M, Walker HK. Terry’s nails: revised definitions and new correlations. Lancet 1984;1(8382):896-99. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6143196 
4. Pitukweerakul S, Pilla S. Terry’s nails and Lindsay’s nails: Two nail abnormalities in chronic systemic diseases. J Gen Intern Med 31;970.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4945547/ 
5. Gagnon AL, Desai T. Dermatological diseases in patients with chronic kidney disease 2013;2:104-109.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3891143/

Figure 1. Terry’s nails in a patient with end-stage liver disease

Figure 2. Lindsay’s nails in a patient with chronic kidney disease

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What is the significance of Terry’s nails in my hospitalized patient?

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