Fingernails can reveal many things about a person's health. One of the most common changes they undergo is the development of ridges. Vertical ridges are common, though horizontal is also possible. Many people worry about these ridges for cosmetic or health reasons. Typically, nail ridges are normal and not cause for concern. However, in some cases, they could point to a medical condition.


When a person ages, their body undergoes many changes; the fingernails and nail beds are no exception. Age can cause the nails to become thicker or thinner, and it can disturb the texture of the nail. As part of these changes, the fingernails may develop vertical ridges beginning at the cuticle and stretching to the tip of the nail. Experts think this could be a sign of slowing rates of cell growth. The top of the nail sheds dead cells like normal, but there is not enough cell growth to replace the dead cells. Injury to the nail growth plate can also lead to vertical ridges.

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Vertical Ridges as a Symptom

Though vertical ridges are not usually a sign of any serious medical issue, they could indicate a few diseases and disorders. For example, some forms of anemia, usually iron-deficiency anemia, present with this symptom, as well as color and texture changes. Tiny blood clots or splinter hemorrhages can cause discoloration under the nail. This discoloration is often vertical, and some people may confuse it for nail ridges. Rheumatoid arthritis and peripheral artery disease also cause vertical ridges.

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Beau's Lines

Some conditions cause deep horizontal ridges rather than shallow vertical ridges. These Beau's lines appear because an illness or disorder interrupts nail growth under the cuticle. Diabetes is the most common disorder that causes Beau's lines. Thyroid disease, syphilis, and mumps are also capable of stunting nail growth and causing the horizontal ridges. Trauma to the nail and cancer chemotherapy drugs can also cause Beau's lines to form, or they may signify malnutrition rather than an illness.

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Digestive Disorders

Because they are often the result of an illness or disorder affecting the growth of the nail, certain dietary and digestive disorders can cause nail ridges. Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that can cause pain, diarrhea, fever, and weight loss. People with autoimmune Celiac disease are adversely affected by gluten. Ulcerative colitis causes inflammation and ulcers in the colon and rectum. All three issues can affect the body's ability to absorb nutrients from food. Without these essentials, the body may not be able to grow nails consistently or properly, resulting in nail ridges.

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Skin Conditions

Both psoriasis and eczema may eventually affect the nails. Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that leads to dry, red skin patches with silvery scales. It may also damage the nail bed or interrupt nail growth, resulting in various presentations of nail ridges. Eczema has symptoms similar to psoriasis, though it may also include changes in skin coloration. In addition to causing nail ridges, eczema can also discolor the nail, making nail ridges that were already present more obvious.

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Though aging and illness are responsible for the vast majority of nail ridges, they are not the only sources. Injuries, even if they do not show damage at the time, can cause the nails to grow incorrectly. The nail does not stop at the cuticle. Instead, it continues into the finger for a short distance. Scratches, blunt traumas, and other accidents to this hidden section of the nail can cause scrapes and ridges. Once the nail grows, and the previously hidden damage is exposed, it may seem as though a new ridge has developed. Given the time it takes nails to grow, one may forget the injury by the time the damage appears.

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Discovering a Cause

Because nail ridges have so many possible causes and correlations, it can be difficult to know if a visit to the doctor is necessary. If an injury is to blame, worrying about illness could cause undue stress. It is important to remember that while nail ridges may be a symptom of a medical condition, they are rarely the only sign. Even minor additional symptoms may expose an issue that necessitates medical intervention. If nail ridges are the only issue, a mundane cause is most likely, but it is always best to see a doctor to ease one's concern.

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Physicians can examine fingernail ridges and determine if a serious medical condition caused them. Typically, the doctor will examine the nail and inquire about the patient's medical history and current health. If they discern symptoms that may point to a medical condition, blood and urine tests can help confirm their beliefs. If the doctor is unable to determine a cause, a dermatologist can test fingernail clippings for signs of infection.

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If fingernail ridges are the result of an underlying condition, treatment of the condition could stop them. Then, it is only a matter of time until the nail grows out and the ridges vanish. Vitamin and mineral supplements may provide additional nutrition for proper nail growth. Emery boards and other nail care tools can mask more shallow ridges. Dermatologists can recommend proper methods of treating nail ridges.

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Proper diet is one of the best ways to prevent nail ridges. Not only will this ensure the body stays healthy in general, but it also provides the nutrients fingernails require for proper development. Additionally, frequent medical examinations enable physicians to catch illnesses and disorders early, before these symptoms have a chance to develop. Unfortunately, because aging causes vertical nail ridges, many prevention plans are delaying an inevitable eventuality. If the ridges are a concern for cosmetic reasons, nail polish or artificial nails can hide them.

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