ZocdocAnswersWhy has my mom lost ALL her nails?

Question

Why has my mom lost ALL her nails?

This is really awful - my mom is 55, and around a year ago, her nails began turning white and lifting up, then falling off. Now they're almost all gone, on both hands and feet. She won't go to a doctor. What's wrong with he?

Answer

The medical terms for the phenomenon that your mother is experience are onycholysis (separation of the nail from the nail bed) and onychomadesis (shedding of the nails). There are numerous causes of nails falling out like this, and they all require medical evaluation because of the risk of a serious underlying problem. Nails separate and fall out when the cells that produce new nail material temporarily have their function disrupted. This can occur because of severe fungal infection of the nails, but this would be unlikely to affect all the nails. It can also occur from multiple different medications; the most common medications that cause nail loss are drugs used to treat cancer but antibiotics and other drugs can also do this. Next, various vitamin and nutrient deficiency can be associated with nail loss, including B vitamin deficiency and iron deficiency. Similarly various hormonal problems, especially problems with the thyroid gland can have effects on the nails. Finally, even more serious medical problems, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as various cancers, can have this effect. In short, there are a number of serious possible causes for your mother's problem, and it is important for her to talk to her internal medicine doctor about this as soon as possible.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.