Your fingernails can reveal a lot about the state of your health. Conditions ranging from stress to kidney and thyroid disease can cause changes in your nails. One common change is the appearance of vertical or horizontal ridges. Most of the time, ridges in fingernails are harmless.
Causes and symptoms
Fingernails are made by living skin cells in your fingers. So a skin condition such as eczema may lead to fingernail ridges. Skin dryness can also cause these ridges. If your body is low in protein, calcium, zinc, or vitamin A, a deficiency can sometimes be revealed by ridges in your fingernails.
Vertical ridges are furrows that run from the tip of your fingernail down to the cuticle. They are sometimes called longitudinal striations or bands.
Slight vertical ridges in fingernails often develop in older adults, possibly due to a slowing of cell turnover. This is when new skin cells produced below the surface of your skin rise up to take the place of dead cells that are discarded from the surface.
If you experience other symptoms like color or texture changes in your nails, it may be caused by a medical condition. In trachyonychia, or 20-nail dystrophy, the ridges may be accompanied by a change in color to your nails, or your nails may become rough or brittle.
Iron deficiency anemia can also trigger vertical ridges and changes to your nails that make them concave, or spoon-shaped.
Deep horizontal ridges, called Beau’s lines, are often symptoms of a serious condition. They may actually stop nail growth until the underlying condition is treated. Acute kidney disease may also be present if Beau’s lines appear. In addition, when Beau’s lines develop on all 20 nails, it could be a symptom of:
Chemotherapy may also cause Beau’s lines.
Trauma to your nails can cause red or brown spots to form underneath your nails. However, if you notice dark brown, black, or red color changes under your nails and you haven’t experienced nail trauma, this can be a symptom of a more serious condition, such as endocarditis or melanoma.
Sudden changes in your nails should be examined by your doctor. If you damaged your nail in an injury, you may wait to see how the nail and your finger heal for a few weeks before deciding whether to see a doctor.
However, you should see your doctor as soon as possible if the injury resulted in:
- a clean or ragged cut through your nail
- a crushed nail
- a nail being torn off
- bleeding under your nail
During your appointment, your doctor will examine your nails and ask about any other symptoms you’re experiencing.
Your doctor may order urine and blood tests if they suspect kidney disease, diabetes, or nutritional deficiencies.
If it appears the ridges are the result of a skin condition, a dermatologist can start you on a treatment plan.
If the cause of your fingernail ridges is unclear, your dermatologist may take some fingernail clippings to have them analyzed in a lab for signs of infection.
Because fingernail ridges are usually signs of other health problems, treatment is focused on the underlying cause of the changes to your nails. For example, if you’ve developed Beau’s lines because of diabetes, successfully controlling your blood sugar may reduce these horizontal fingernail ridges.
Treatment for skin conditions such as eczema may include moisturizers for your hands or topical ointments to reduce eczema symptoms. If low levels of minerals or vitamins are to blame, you may be advised to alter your diet or take supplements to boost your levels.
Buffing your fingernails with an emery board may help smooth ridges. Ask your dermatologist for advice on treating your nails. You’ll want to be careful not to press too hard to avoid further damage.
Most of the time, ridges in fingernails are normal signs of aging. However, it’s important to pay attention to fingernail ridges and other nail changes. These might be the first signs of a serious medical problem.