If you have ridges or lines in your fingernails, the direction and type of line can help you determine whether you are just showing your age, or if a visit to the doctor might be in order.
Vertical ridges are typically lines that run from the nail bed or base of the fingernail to the tip of the nail. You may be able to see these lines as well as feel them when you run a finger across your fingernail.
Vertical lines are often a normal part of aging and, as such, are typically not a serious cause for concern. These ridges can also develop as an extension of an injury to the bed of the fingernail.
Vertical ridges appearing on brittle nails that are prone to jagged edges or splitting, may be a sign of a non-infectious skin rash called lichen planus.
Brittle nails with ridges may also be a symptom of a more serious health condition such as anemia — which is low iron in the blood — or low thyroid. Talk to your health care provider to determine whether the ridges in your nails could be a concern.
Ridges in nails that run sideways across the nail can be a sign of an injury to the nail bed, or may be the result of a more serious health concern.
Beau’s lines are depressions in the fingernails or toenails that cross the nail from one side to the other. These lines are typically a symptom of a more serious disease that affects the entire body.
Diseases that can cause Beau’s lines include:
• Heart attack
• Liver disease
• Malnutrition or poor absorption of nutrients from food
• Serious infections such as measles, mumps or pneumonia
• Metabolic conditions such as poorly controlled diabetes
In general, any condition or medication that affects the health of the growth plate of the fingernail can result in Beau’s lines, including chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer.
Beau’s lines can sometimes be used to give an approximate time course for an illness by measuring the distance from the Beau’s line to the bed of the nail.
If you have horizontal ridges or Beau’s lines in your fingernails or toenails, or if you have other questions about the health of your nails, talk to your health care provider.