Mountain climb leaves a man with white stripes on his fingernails

Man gets white stripes across his fingernails after climbing a 7,000m mountain ‘starved him of oxygen’

  • The unnamed 27-year-old climbed Spantik mountain in Pakistan 
  • He spent three weeks at 4,000m altitude or higher, where there was less oxygen
  • His doctor said the problem was cosmetic rather than medical and it grew out

You may think the white specks on your nails come from a lack of calcium or shutting your finger in a drawer.

But one 27-year-old man was left with matching lines across all his fingernails – because he climbed a mountain.

The unnamed climber, from Newcastle, visited a doctor because he was worried about the mysterious lines which appeared after his trip.

And he was told the harmless condition had be caused by oxygen deprivation during his mountaineering holiday. 

The unnamed climber, 27, was left with matching white lines running horizontally across all his fingernails. His doctor told him the condition – called Mees’ lines – was caused by a lack of oxygen while he was climbing a mountain

He was diagnosed with Mees’ lines, which are lines of white discoloration that run horizontally across nails.

He had no other injuries or medical conditions which could have explained them, and his doctor realised they had been caused by the altitude.

The man had climbed almost to the summit of the mountain Spantik, in Pakistan, which is 7,031metres high – 80 per cent of the height of Mount Everest (8,850m).

And spending three weeks at altitudes of 4,000m or more is what triggered the strange-looking occurrence, according to an article in BMJ Case Reports.

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Unfortunately, he never made it to the summit, turning back after 6,900m because of exhaustion and hypothermia.

But spending so long at altitude deprived his fingers of the oxygen needed to grow healthy nails, his physician Dr Avinash Aujayeb said.

He said being at high altitude could starve the body of minerals and reduce blood flow to the extremeties.

‘A wide variety of nail changes are associated with high altitude mountaineering,’ Dr Aujayeb wrote.

‘[They] have been attributed to a reduction in iron stores, local trauma, cold exposure… and a hypobaric environment.

‘By definition, extreme altitude was reached at 6900m, where the [pressure of oxygen in the blood] is about 39 per cent compared with sea level.’

The man climbed the Spantik mountain (pictured) in Pakistan. He made it to 6,900m altitude, just 131m from the summit, before he had to turn back because of exhaustion and hypothermia

He said the nail changes were because of a ‘temporary cessation of nail growth’.

This was likely caused by the body – under the stress of struggling to breathe and the effort of climbing the mountain – sent less blood and oxygen to the fingers, meaning their ability to grow nails normally was interrupted.

Nails grow at approximately 3mm per month. If part of the growth is interrupted or damaged it can pass along the nail as a white spot when normal growth continues.

The man also lost 1st 3lbs (8kg) during his three week adventure but quickly put the weight back on. 

Dr Aujayeb confirmed the lines were nothing to worry about, adding: ‘They are more of a cosmetic than a medical issue.’

They grew out and eventually disappeared, the report concluded.


An innovative mobile app allows people to test themselves for anaemia without even drawing blood, a study revealed in December. 

Developed by an Emory University (Atlanta, Georgia) engineering student with a blood disorder, the new app scans photos taken of the fingernail beds for signs of the amount of haemoglobin – which help prevent out-of-control bleeding – in the blood. 

Anaemia is extremely common, affecting about 1.62billion people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

It occurs when someone has a shortage of iron in their blood, a key ingredient to the production of red blood cells that allow clotting, which prevents us from losing excessive amounts of blood.   

But the new app has shown promise to cut out the hassle, cost, and pesky needle prick to test for anaemia. 

It works by measuring the colour of the skin beneath the fingernails – if it is paler or has white spots someone may have lower levels of haemoglobin and therefore be at risk. 

The app is still being developed and is not available to the public. 

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