Vertical nail ridges, which extend from your cuticle to the tip of your nail, are fairly common and often become more numerous or prominent as you age. Vertical ridges in your nails are not a health concern.
Although the exact cause of such ridging isn't known, heredity likely plays a role. If your fingernails change color or develop horizontal ridges, see your doctor. These changes may indicate underlying health problems, such as respiratory disease, malnutrition or even heart attack.
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, 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.
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.
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.