Fingernail Ridges

Isolated image of a hand and fingernails
Nail ridges can be indicative of underlying conditions.

Fingernail ridges are extremely common - and also generally quite harmless. Before you run to the doctor in a panic over the condition of your nails, take a moment to learn more about these lines.

Keep an Eye on Your Nails

Along with discolorations and other signs of trauma to the nail, ridges are usually met with a bit of concern. While worrying is never a good option, examining the nails for changes or abnormalities certainly is. That's because the condition of the fingernails is often (though not always) strongly indicative of overall health. For example, certain nail conditions may suggest the onset of a more serious disease inflicting the body, such as anemia, thyroid disease or a respiratory or circulatory disorder.

Types of Fingernail Ridges

Despite their unsightly appearance, fingernail ridges are usually nothing to be overly concerned about. There are two types of ridges, both with their own distinctive characteristics and causes. It's important to discern between the two, especially if you are using your ridges as a barometer for your overall health.

  • Vertical Ridges: Ridges that extend from the base of the nail (or the cuticle area) to the tip are vertical. They are not generally known to be harmful or indicative of an underlying condition. They may become more prominent and increase with age, and heredity may play a role in their occurrence.
  • Horizontal Ridges: Ridges that extend from one side of the nail to the other are horizontal. Not only do they differ in appearance from vertical ridges, they can sometimes be strongly suggestive of an underlying medical condition.

Vertical Ridge Care

Vertical ridges are, by and large, quite harmless. It's likely that you will notice them more than anyone else does. They can, however, pose a problem for those who love the look of absolutely flawless nails. In order to rid the nail of these thin lines, it can be helpful to adopt a few healthful tips that will keep your nails looking great. Bear in mind that they may not reduce your ridges completely or immediately.

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet rich in proteins, healthy fats (derived from nuts and fish, for example), fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Drink plenty of water. Add a bit of fresh lemon, lime or orange to your glass to keep the routine interesting.
  • Take your vitamins. At the very least, a multivitamin can be relied upon as "insurance" for your needs. This is especially important if you happen to lack specific nutrients and minerals.
  • Go to the professionals. Not only is a manicure a wonderful indulgence, it's also a top-notch way to ensure that your nails look their best. Regular visits will keep your nails regularly treated and healthy.
  • Buff those nails! Smooth a buffer across the surface to achieve high shine and encourage smoothness. This may help usher out those ridges over time, as well.

Horizontal Ridge Care

Horizontal ridges are, unfortunately, more concerning. Though they aren't always suggestive of a serious condition, it is always helpful to seek medical advice to rule out anything serious. Some conditions that horizontal ridges may be associated with include:

  • Respiratory disease
  • Malnutrition
  • Nail trauma
  • Liver disease
  • Renal failure

Obviously, these conditions are very serious and do require immediate medical care. This is why it's so crucial to get checked out if you do notice horizontal ridges on your nails.

There are also several types of horizontal ridges, including:

  • Beau's Lines: These deep nail grooves are slightly dark. The ridge usually occurs when the nail's growth ceases temporarily due to a nutritional or metabolic problem, or another underlying condition. Some causes of Beau's Lines include:
    • Malnutrition
    • Diabetes
    • Certain medications
    • Nail bed injuries
    • Chemotherapy
  • Muehrcke's Lines: Associated with albumin deficiency, Muehrcke's lines are white in appearance. Unlike Beau's lines, they aren't grooved. These lines actually form beneath the nail itself, in the vascular nail bed. Thus, they don't shift as the nail grows.
  • Aldrich-Mees Lines: These discolored lines appear on both fingernails and toenails. They are associated with poisoning from arsenic, thallium and other heavy metals. They may also appear in patients with renal failure.
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