What Causes Ridges In Fingernails

– And Should You See A Doctor?

By: - Health & Fitness - June 6, 2011
what causes ridges in fingernails

You may be surprised to learn that your fingernails are a handy gauge of your overall health.  Fingernails are made up of highly compacted protein cells called keratin, just like the claws, hooves and horns on many other creatures. When they are healthy, they have a uniform color, are firmly attached to the nail-bed and are generally smooth.  As human beings age, it’s not uncommon to have vertical fingernail ridges, that extend from the nail-bed outwards towards the tip of the fingers.  Yet, if they are an excellent indicator for good health, they are also an excellent indicator of poor health.  In some cases, the examination of the nails may reveal a clue to an as yet undiagnosed or even realized medical condition that needs treatment.

As mentioned above, it is perfectly normal for a human being to have vertical fingernail ridges.  Horizontal ridges, however, are a different issue altogether.  What causes ridges in fingernails that horizontal is not usually worthy of great concern, such as trauma to the nail-bed or a short period of illness that resulted in poor nutrition.  It is believed that severe trauma to the nail may temporarily cause the cessation of cell division in the nail matrix.  Sometimes the ridges are caused by an infection in the nail bed or a problem in the nail fold (where the nail begins to form).  Very prolonged or severe illness can result in horizontal fingernail ridges as well as other trauma to the body, such as surgery.

Beaus ridges, named after the French doctor who first described them in medical literature, are darkened horizontal ridges in the nails that extend form edge to edge, rather than from nail-bed outwards.  They are not to be confused with Muehrcke’s lines of the fingernails.  Muehrcke’s lines are dark lines on the nail-bed, under the nails and do not affect the nail itself.  You cannot feel ridges when you touch them.  Beau’s Ridges, however, are clearly felt as indentations, sometimes quiet deep. Horizontal ridges such as these can indicate very serious problems.   Malnutrition resulting from a metabolic disorder, diseases such as diabetes and circulatory or pulmonary problems are some of what causes ridges in fingernails.   Coronary occlusion (the partial blockage of an artery) can cause circulatory problems severe enough to affect the fingernail development and this is one case where the nails are a first responder.   Beaus ridges have also been a documented side-effect of certain medication (like Beta Blockers) and chemotherapy.

When it comes down to the line, there the question of what causes fingernail ridges can be summed up as either age, trauma of some kind or sub-optimal health depending on whether or not they are horizontal or vertical.

It is important to make sure that you are caring for your overall health, and that includes your nails. If you feel that your nails are less than healthy, then the first thing that you should look at is your lifestyle and whether or not you are leading a lifestyle that can be considered healthy. If you are, then perhaps you should see a doctor to ascertain just what the issue is with your nails.

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