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Evaluation of nail abnormalities.

Knowledge of the anatomy and function of the nail apparatus is essential when performing the physical examination. Inspection may reveal localized nail abnormalities that should be treated, or may provide clues to an underlying systemic disease that requires further workup. Excessive keratinaceous material under the nail bed in a distal and lateral distribution should prompt an evaluation for onychomycosis. Onychomycosis may be diagnosed through potassium hydroxide examination of scrapings. If potassium hydroxide testing is negative for the condition, a nail culture or nail plate biopsy should be performed. A proliferating, erythematous, disruptive mass in the nail bed should be carefully evaluated for underlying squamous cell carcinoma. Longitudinal melanonychia (vertical nail bands) must be differentiated from subungual melanomas, which account for 50 percent of melanomas in persons with dark skin. Dystrophic longitudinal ridges and subungual hematomas are local conditions caused by trauma. Edema and erythema of the proximal and lateral nail folds are hallmark features of acute and chronic paronychia. Clubbing may suggest an underlying disease such as cirrhosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or celiac sprue. Koilonychia (spoon nail) is commonly associated with iron deficiency anemia. Splinter hemorrhages may herald endocarditis, although other causes should be considered. Beau lines can mark the onset of a severe underlying illness, whereas Muehrcke lines are associated with hypoalbuminemia. A pincer nail deformity is inherited or acquired and can be associated with beta-blocker use, psoriasis, onychomycosis, tumors of the nail apparatus, systemic lupus erythematosus, Kawasaki disease, and malignancy.

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