Since the hands are based on the symphony of the body’s systems, doctors often look to these appendages for signs of illness or disease.
Doctors don’t have to be palm readers to make amazing predictions about your health. Your hands speak volumes, especially if something is wrong. Their form, function, and appearance offer important prognostic and diagnostic clues.
“You can learn a lot by looking at hands,” agrees Kelly Wesselman, MD, a rheumatologist at WellStar Rheumatology in Smyrna, Georgia, and director of communications for the American College of Rheumatology.
We asked Dr. Wesselman and other medical professionals, including neurologists, cardiologists, and dermatologists, to share the common and strange things that happen when we examine our hands, and what those symptoms mean. You may be shocked to find out what your hands reveal.
Symptoms: weak hand grip
A rough handshake in business says something about your personality. In medicine, it can be a sign of poor health.
“During a patient physical exam, we pay attention to someone’s handshake,” says Anne Albers, MD, a cardiologist at OhioHealth Heart & Vascular Physicians in Columbus. “We associate it with weakness,” he said.
According to a 2016 review in the International Journal of Cardiology, reduced grip strength and slow walking are associated with a higher risk of death from heart disease in the elderly.
A recent PLOS One study of adults aged 40 to 69 found that a stronger hand grip could be a sign of healthier heart function and structure. Based on these findings, the researchers suspect that handshake may one day be a useful measure for identifying people at high risk of developing heart disease.
Symptoms: small red bumps or blisters
A red rash and sometimes blisters on the hands and wrists can be a sign of a nickel allergy. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, nickel sensitivity is one of the most common causes of allergic contact dermatitis.
Many things that touch your skin contain nickel: bracelets, watches, rings, even cell phones. But did you know that eating nickel-containing foods can cause hand rashes?
“Nickel is particularly abundant in beans, chocolate, peanuts, soy, oatmeal, and granola,” said Salma Fagri de la Feld, assistant professor of dermatology at Emory University in Atlanta. “Doing a trial to avoid nickel-containing foods can determine if it applies to you,” he says.