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Nails

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2023-05-27

USMLE Guide: Nails

Introduction

Nails are an essential part of the integumentary system and play a crucial role in protecting the distal phalanges of our fingers and toes. They are composed of a protein called keratin and are primarily made up of dead cells. The appearance and condition of nails can provide valuable insights about a person's overall health. This USMLE guide aims to provide an overview of the anatomy, functions, common nail disorders, and diagnostic techniques related to nails.

Anatomy of Nails

Nails consist of several anatomical components, including:

  1. Nail Plate: The visible portion of the nail that covers the nail bed.
  2. Nail Bed: The underlying skin beneath the nail plate.
  3. Lunula: The pale, half-moon-shaped area at the base of the nail plate.
  4. Nail Matrix: The region at the base of the nail responsible for nail growth.
  5. Nail Fold: The fold of skin surrounding the nail plate.
  6. Cuticle: The thin layer of skin at the base of the nail plate.

Functions of Nails

Nails serve various important functions, including:

  1. Protection: Nails protect the fingertips and toes from injuries and trauma.
  2. Manipulation: Nails aid in fine motor activities such as grasping and picking up objects.
  3. Sensation: Nails contribute to tactile sensation by enhancing the sensitivity of the fingertips.
  4. Scratching: Nails help alleviate itching and provide relief.
  5. Cosmetics: Nails can be used for self-expression and aesthetic purposes.

Common Nail Disorders

  1. Onychomycosis: Fungal infection of the nail, leading to discoloration, thickening, and brittleness.
  2. Paronychia: Infection of the nail fold, often caused by bacteria or fungi, resulting in redness, pain, and swelling.
  3. Ingrown Nail: When the edge of the nail grows into the skin, causing pain, tenderness, and possible infection.
  4. Onycholysis: Separation of the nail plate from the nail bed, often due to trauma, psoriasis, or fungal infections.
  5. Beau's Lines: Transverse depressions or grooves across the nail plate, usually indicating a temporary disturbance in nail growth due to systemic conditions or trauma.

Diagnostic Techniques

To diagnose nail disorders, the following techniques may be employed:

  1. Physical Examination: Careful inspection of the nails, nail bed, cuticles, and surrounding skin for abnormalities.
  2. Fungal Culture: Collecting nail clippings or scrapings for laboratory analysis to identify fungal infections.
  3. Biopsy: In certain cases, a small sample of nail tissue may be taken for microscopic examination to aid in diagnosis.
  4. Imaging: X-rays or ultrasounds may be used to assess underlying bony structures or evaluate nail bed injuries.

Conclusion

Understanding the anatomy, functions, common disorders, and diagnostic techniques related to nails is crucial for medical professionals. This USMLE guide provides a concise overview of the key concepts related to nails, allowing healthcare providers to better assess and manage various nail-related conditions encountered in clinical practice.

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