Splinter hemorrhages are small areas of bleeding (hemorrhage) under the fingernails or toenails.
Splinter hemorrhages look like thin, red to reddish-brown lines of blood under the nails. They run in the direction of nail growth.
They are named splinter hemorrhages because they look like a splinter under the fingernail. The hemorrhages may be caused by tiny clots that damage the small capillaries under the nails.
Splinter hemorrhages can occur with infection of the heart valves (endocarditis). They may be caused by vessel damage from swelling of the blood vessels (vasculitis) or tiny clots that damage the small capillaries (microemboli).
Injury to the nail
There is no specific care for splinter hemorrhages. Follow your health care provider's instructions for treating endocarditis.
Call your health care provider if
Contact your health care provider if:
You notice splinter hemorrhages and you haven't had any recent injury to the nail
Note: Splinter hemorrhages usually appear late in endocarditis. Likely other symptoms will cause you to visit your health care provider before splinter hemorrhages appear.
What to expect at your health care provider's office
Your health care provider will examine you to determine the cause of splinter hemorrhages. The health care provider may ask you the following medical history questions:
When did you first notice this?
Have you had an injury to the nails recently?
Do you have endocarditis, or has your health care provider suspected that you have endocarditis?
What other symptoms do you have, such as shortness of breath, fever, general ill feeling, or muscle aches?
Physical examination may include special attention to the heart and blood circulation systems.
After seeing your health care provider, you may want to add a diagnosis of splinter hemorrhages to your personal medical record.
Tosti A. Diseases of hair and nails. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 450.
Mackowiak PA, Durack DT. Fever of unknown origin. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 51.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.