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

January 9, 2008 by Kristie Leong MD  
Published in Skin

Have you developed fingernail ridges? Are they a cause for concern? Find out what you need to know.

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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29 Responses to “What Causes Ridges in Fingernails and What You Can Do About Them”
  1. John Gallant Says:

    My right thumbnail hs horizontal ridges all the way from the cuticle to the end of the nail.Planning on bypass surgery.

  2. John Gallant Says:

    I forgot to mention that the ridges are in the middle third of the nail of the right thumb

  3. karen Says:

    Mate, thats a vertical ridge. Nothing to worry about.

  4. Patti Says:

    The index and middle fingers of both hands have “ruffled” nails. The nails bend sharply downward at the tips and have a wavy appearance from the top view. My doctor is stymied. I am taking antidepressants and Topomax. Any help would be appreciated.
    hendrickson@consolidated.net

  5. Jill Says:

    Patti….I have exactly the same, but not on any meds. Have you learned anything, or has your nails cleared up?

  6. Sylvia Says:

    I’ve always been a cuticle picker, and the only time I don’t do that is when I wear acrylic overlays. When not wearing acrylics, back to the picking and as the nails grow out, there’s the ridges. Perhaps we need to look at our nervous habits as a reason for the ridges.

  7. get a grip Says:

    It may be a habit-tic deformity, a relatively common nail disorder that is often confused with onychomycosis.

    http://www.aafp.org/afp/981101ap/photoqz.html

  8. Colleen Says:

    I have a deep vertical nail ridge that extends from my cuticle to the tip of my nail. It has been there for a while and did not cause any concern but lately it has become more serious. As soon as the nail goes past the quick it splits and snags on everything I touch. My other nails are in great shape due to vitamin supplements. What can be done about this problem?

  9. Greg Kay Says:

    I recently discovered horizontal grooves, rather than ridges in the nails of all ten fingers. They’re not discolored, but are very visible and feel-able, looking much like the nails have been crushed downward by a blunt edge, which hasn’t happened. What’s going on?

  10. Robert Voorwinde Says:

    I recently had Bowel Cancer and am currentley on oral Chemotheraphy. The time frame from the time of the operation displays very visibly on all fingernails. The ridges are now approximately halfway on the nail, which coincides accurately with 27th May,2009.
    Greg may i strongly suggest that you seek medical advice.

  11. Kimberly Helton Says:

    Greg, you are explaining my nails exactly. Did you find out anything more?

  12. Maggie Says:

    I have a problem with horizontal ridges…not always, but frequently. However, it doesn’t stop there. For example, at this time, my left pointer finger looks like it was crushed and flattened from about mid finger to the cuticle. It is very disfigured. I bought some iron supplements yesterday…just to try and see if they will help. I might mention that I am a vegetarian, although I eat plenty of protein. This is a problem that I’ve had alllllll of my life. And, I’ve always hidden my fingernails because of it. Please help!!!

  13. zoe Says:

    Im a bit worried about my nails, recently my nails have changed, i have horizontal ridges, which looks like lumps on my nails and the middle bit of my nails are white not pink and they feel like like theres a pressure on them and quite tender. can someone give me some advice plesase.

  14. Tracy Resch Says:

    My fingernails are very flimsy, thin and grow wavy. They break, snag, and tear very easily and I have to keep them fairly short.
    Ive tried to research something to improve them, but there is not much information out there on this condition. Can anyone please help me? Please e-mail me at dreemur@gmail.com.
    Thanks so much.

  15. James H Pursell Says:

    I have Beau’s lines on some, but not all fingernails – only on the ring finger and middle finger of the left hand. The lines exhibit as raised ridges spaced 1/2 mm apart for most of the lenght of the nails. I’ve heard that the specific fingers which exhibit abnormalities is significant as an indicator to the source of the disturbance or illness. I can’t find any information about this on the Internet.

    I also have had (for 30 years) a longitudinal (cuticle to tip) dark band, 2mm wide, on the left thumb. Punch biopsies proved negative. Since I am a redhead, my dermatologist is baffled.

    Jim

  16. Barbara Says:

    Tracy–describes my own nails. Unfortunately that’s genetic–when I was in manicure school they called that “eggshell type” nails. They’re thin, relatively brittle, and curve downward (especially on the fingers I use most to type!). The only thing I can do to get mine to grow much is take folic acid supplements. This also helps my hair which is relatively fine and brittle.
    Just the way I am.

  17. val Says:

    For all of the females with the horizontal ridges, please get your iron checked right away especially if the ridges are deep, this means you are very low on iron. I found out the hard way and was extremely anemic for over two years and still am recovering.

  18. donna w Says:

    I JUST NOTICED ABOUT A WEEK AGO THAT I HAVE RIDGES IN MY NAILS ALL OF THEM FROM THE CUTICAL TO THE END I HAVE BEEN UNDERALTO OF STRESS MAYBE THAT IS IT. I HEARD THAT A PRODUCT CALLED BLUEBONNET A VITIMAN AT HEALTH FOOD STORES ONLY IS GREAT I AM GOING TO TRY THAT

  19. Mimi Says:

    i’ve had vertical lines on my left hand that has been getting worse first is was only one finger now it is two. Plus as Colleen the first one has become so brittle the minute it grows out it splits on the ridges and it is so thin. I just recently been diagnosed with pkd. And recently went to look at nail problems and one of the sites mentioned that vertical ridges have a linkage to kidney disease. I do believe that your nails and eyes is the eyes to your body in what is going on inside there. Go have a sonar or ultrasound and check out your kidneys.

  20. Christine Says:

    I was visiting my family in Chile during the time of their terrible earthquakes which was stressful and scary. Although unhurt I have noticed that all my nails now have a horizontal ridge which must have formed during my time there. Can shock/drama cause horizontal ridges?

  21. Jane Nurse Says:

    Gosh half the folks who comment can’t read or comprehend therefore we must conclude VERTICAL ie top to bottom ridges in nails make you blind or stupid.

    simple to comprehend if you both to READ the article. if you have other problems, do go and see a health professional not ask for a diagnosis on a comment section of an article.

    my oh my.

    Get real folks..ask your Doc

  22. Dee Says:

    Jane Nurse! Shame on you! \”Ridges in nails make you Stupid\”? There are nicer ways of telling people what they need to know.

  23. Nuds Says:

    I agree that was shocking!!
    What kind of caring nurse are you!

  24. nail it Says:

    Jane Nurse, brilliant! :)

  25. kim Says:

    As a montessori teacher, I know that some people learn by reading and others learn by example. Therefore, distinguishing between which way the lines are going depends upon which way you hold your hand, but you did mention top to bottom, etc. However, as an educated person myself there can be other causes for the top to bottom lines. I once met a woman who coauthored an alternative to medicine book titled Alternatives to Chemical Medicine, and I asked her about top to bottom lines, and she stated it is a mineral deficiency. She did not say which one, but maybe a blood test would be in order. What do you think JANE???

  26. Kelly Says:

    I get these beau’s lines on my thumbs and on one index finger. I have had these since being a teenager, as I can recall thinking, hmmmm…must be a variation of normal. I am now 43 and have two young children. About two years ago, my anxiety came back after googling health things, and as a result, I had many medical tests done…everything came back normal, and anything on blood tests that may have been a tad andoff, which wasn’t much, wasn’t serious. Now
    , I seem to be fine with anxiety, and as far as I know, don’t have any medical conditions. Hopefully, it stays that way

    If anyone wants to correspond…..my email is kp3196@comcast.net

    Best regards- K

  27. Casey Says:

    There is a ridge in the middle all the way up on both of my thumbs. How do I get rid of the ridges?

  28. Cuticle Picker Says:

    Do any of you pick at your cuticles like I do ? You can develop horizontal ridges on the nails if you pick at or tear off the cuticle(near first knuckle at tip of finger). I got all worried about Wilson’s disease. But then I realized not all my nails do this and the ones that do…I pick at regularly. So yes if you are concerned go see your doctor. Or first examine the location of the horizontal ridges, ask your self …”Do I pick at these nail cuticles ?” If you answer yes more likely than not you have “habit tic nail deformity” :
    Habit-tic deformity is a common nail condition caused by a conscious or unconscious rubbing or picking of the proximal nail folds . Horizontal grooves are formed proximately due to nail matrix damage and subsequently move distally with fingernail growth. The dominant thumbnail is most often affected by frequent rubbing with the ipsilateral index fingernail, although all nails can be involved.

  29. dave Says:

    stop picking your cuticles and pushing them back! that definitely causes horizontal ridges. took me 10 years to figure that out. A doctor pointed it out one. takes a few months to grow the whole nail back.


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