Causes of horizontal ridges on fingernails

11.06.2019
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Ridges in Fingernails: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

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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.

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

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.

Horizontal ridges

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.

Ridges in the fingernails are often normal signs of aging. Slight vertical ridges commonly develop in older adults. In some cases, they may be a sign of health problems like vitamin deficiencies or diabetes. Deep horizontal ridges, called Beau’s lines, may indicate a serious condition.


causes of horizontal ridges on fingernails
Do ridges on your fingernails indicate a thyroid problem?

Your fingernails are a great barometer of your health. There are two types of ridges that can appear on your nails: vertical and horizontal. Vertical ridges run from the cuticle to the tip of your nail and are very common, especially as you age. These ridges are typically no cause for concern.

Horizontal ridges run from side to side on your nails and are often referred to as Beau’s lines. Horizontal ridges can be caused by trauma to the nail and may be deep or discolored. The can also indicate malnutrition, psoriasis or a thyroid problem.

Check with your doctor if you see horizontal ridges on your nails; they may indicate a more serious problem.

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What Causes Horizontal Ridges in Fingernails?

The appearance of fingernails can tell a doctor many things about a person's health, from a simple vitamin deficiency to something more serious. There are many causes of grooves or ridges on fingernails. Vertical grooves or ridges are quite common; however, horizontal ridges are not and they may signify an underlying illness. Consult your doctor should you discover horizontal ridges on your fingernails.

Beau's Lines

Beau's lines are horizontal depressions on the fingernail, usually at the same area on the nail plate. They occur after or during a serious illness such as a systemic infection or diabetes. Cancer patients being treated with chemotherapy may get Beau's lines. Patients with Raynaud's disease may get horizontal ridges on their fingernails from being exposed to cold temperatures. Nail trauma and malnutrition can also cause Beau's lines. The grooves may disappear after recovering from illness.

Muehrcke's Lines

Muehrcke's lines appear as pairs of transverse white lines extending horizontally across the nail, parallel to the lunula. These grooves are caused by a vascular abnormality in the nail bed and disappear temporarily when the nail is pressed. Muehrcke's lines do not occur in the nail bed, therefore, they do not move with growth of the nails. These fingernail lines are prevalent in patients with low albumin levels, kidney or liver disease and malnutrition.

Mee's Lines

Mees' lines are horizontal, white bands on multiple nails caused by arsenic poisoning or, rarely, serious systemic illnesses. The width of these fingernail lines can vary. As the nail bed itself is not affected, Mees' lines move higher as the nail grows.

Terry's Nails

In Terry's nails, the nail plate is white except for a narrow horizontal band near the finger tip. These horizontal ridges on the fingernails are sometimes seen in patients with liver cirrhosis, diabetes, kidney disease or HIV infection.

Horizontal Half Moons (Lunulae)

The white, horizontal, half-moon shape that appears at the base of some nail beds (most commonly on the thumb and forefinger nails) is called the lunula. If the lunulae are blue in color, this may represent Wilson Disease or silver poisoning. Red lunulae can be caused by liver cirrhosis, carbon monoxide poisoning, COPD, heart failure or psoriasis.

Nail Trauma

Nails can sustain horizontal dents or ridges from physical trauma to the nail bed. If you discover horizontal ridges on your fingernails, consider any recent trauma as the cause. These grooves are typically temporary and will grow out with the nail.

Horizontal Fingernail Ridges

If the half-moon like white shapes near the base of the nail, also known as lunulae, become blue in color, it could indicate silver poisoning. If they are red, it could mean that a person has psoriasis, liver cirrhosis, or carbon monoxide poisoning. Then there are terry's nails, a condition in which the nail plate becomes entirely white, except for a small horizontal part near its tip. This condition is caused when a person is affected by diseases like HIV, liver cirrhosis, kidney disease, and diabetes, resulting in ridges on fingernails.

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