Your hands can indicate other health issues

Posted on 2 December 2014

Because your hands are the most exposed parts of your body, they endure a lot! The hands are also excellent indicators of problems elsewhere in the body. Dr Jacques du Toit, a dermatologist at Mediclinic Louis Leipoldt, helps explain those ailments.

1. Nails that stay white when pinched
Often used by doctors as a diagnostic tool, a pinch of the fingertips, usually over the nail bed – obviously without nail polish – gives your doctor a good indication of any circulatory issues. The test is called the capillary nail bed refill test and monitors the amount of blood flow to the tissues furthest from the heart. Once pinched, the nail bed turns white and the doctor monitors how long it takes for the pink colour to return. The average healthy refill time is less than two seconds. Any longer than that and it may be an indication of dehydration, hypothermia or peripheral vascular disease – all of which need treatment by a medical professional.

2. You’re dehydrated
Dehydration will leach fluid from the skin, so a reliable indicator of your body’s level of hydration is a quick pinch of the skin on the back of your hand. If you’re perfectly hydrated, the pinched area should level back out in seconds. If it doesn’t and the skin seems to ‘stick’ in the pinched position, you’re seriously dehydrated. Dr Du Toit says that this pinch test is particularly significant in checking the hydration of babies with gastro-intestinal issues, since dehydration in babies with gastro is one of the main causes of baby deaths in Africa.

A common misconception is that when we register thirst, we need to drink. In reality, thirst is an indicator that you’re already dehydrated, so ensure you’re consuming enough fluids from the get-go. Dr Du Toit says the thinking that the average person should be drinking eight to 10 glasses of water a day has come under some criticism in recent years – it can even be dangerous in someone with heart or kidney failure. He says that new research suggests that fluid in cool drinks, tea or coffee should also be taken into account when calculating your daily fluid intake.

3. A pinched nerve elsewhere
Many of us experience a tingling or numbness of the pinkie and ring finger, which not only feels weird but can be inconvenient too! These strange sensations can come and go, but they’re a good indication that you’ve most likely pinched a nerve in your neck, elbow, wrist or hand. The most common cause of this pinkie and ring finger tingle is a pinch or damage to your ulnar nerve, which is the same one that’s affected when you ‘hit your funny bone’. It can be treated by a doctor who will get to the root cause and treat it accordingly; usually with anti-inflammatories or a course of cortisone.



The information provided in this article was correct at the time of publishing. At Mediclinic we endeavour to provide our patients and readers with accurate and reliable information, which is why we continually review and update our content. However, due to the dynamic nature of clinical information and medicine, some information may from time to time become outdated prior to revision.

Published in Dermatology

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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