What Causes Ridges in Fingernails

What Causes Ridges in Fingernails and What You Can Do About Them

January 09, 2008 by

Kristie Leong M.D.  

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Many people don’t realize that the fingernails can be an excellent barometer of overall health. In many cases, changes in the appearance of fingernails can be the first sign of an undiagnosed medical problem such as a circulatory problem, respiratory disorder, iron deficiency anemia, or

thyroid disease. Such signs as ridges in the fingernails, discolorations, and changes in the contours of the nail base can be important signs of illness. With that in mind, maybe we should be scrutinizing our fingernails more often!

When you look at your fingernails do you notice ridges? Ridges in fingernails are not necessarily a cause for concern. The distinction should be made between horizontal ridges in nails and vertical ridges in nails. Vertical nail ridges are seen rather commonly and usually are not signs of serious illness. These ridges generally extend from the base of your fingernail to the tip in an orderly, regular fashion. These ridges tend to become more prominent with age and are generally don’t indicate poor health or a serious medical condition.

On the other hand, horizontal nail ridges may indicate the presence of an underlying illness or medical condition, although this is not always the case. Horizontal nail ridges run from one side of the nail lengthwise across to the other side. One special type of horizontal nail ridge that may indicate underlying illness is called Beau’s lines.

Beau’s lines give horizontal, deeply grooved ridges in the nails which may be slightly darkened in appearance. There are a variety of causes for these distinctive ridges including a previous injury to the nail bed, malnutrition, certain medications, and metabolic disorders such as diabetes. The ridge which characterizes Beau’s lines occurs when growth of the nail is temporarily arrested due to an underlying illness, nutritional, or metabolic problem. If you have this type of horizontal nail ridge, see your doctor right away.

Sometimes the growth of the nail is briefly interrupted due to more common factors such as brief changes in nutritional status or slight trauma to the nail matrix. This can result in the formation of horizontal nail ridges secondary to brief interruptions in nail growth.. These are

 usually not a cause for concern, although it would be advisable to consult with your doctor if you have obvious horizontal nail ridges since they can be a sign of nutritional deficiency or other underlying disease. In some rare cases, these lengthwise ridges can be a sign of arsenic poisoning.

If you’ve recently developed ridges in the nails, particularly if they are horizontal in nature, a consultation with your doctor would be advisable to rule out an underlying health problem.

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