A person’s fingernails can reveal a lot about their health. Most often, fingernail lines are harmless. However, some lines could reveal health problems such as diabetes, thyroid disease, nutrient deficiencies, and more. Lines can run horizontally or vertically and be accompanied by other deformities like discoloration, thickening, and pitting, depending on the underlying disease. Here’s what you need to know about the lines in your fingernails.
What’s considered normal/not normal?
Your fingernails are a great indicator of your health. There are two types of lines or ridges that can appear on your nails: Vertical and horizontal.
- Vertical nail lines that start at the cuticle and run to the tip of your nail are common, suggests the Mayo Clinic. Additionally, it’s quite normal to see lines increase and become more prominent with age.
- If you develop horizontal lines that run across your nails, then you may want to talk to your doctor. These changes could be an indication of an underlying health condition. Although a single nail fracture is usually due to minor physical trauma and isn’t something to worry about.
If your nails change color, it could be the result of a nail fungus. Worse, it could be a sign of skin cancer. So, you should see your doctor right away. Nails that turn white or yellow at the tips or near the cuticles could be a sign of liver or kidney disease. Yellow nails can also be the result of respiratory problems, such as chronic bronchitis. Diagnosing the cause of fingernail lines — whether vertical or horizontal — is key to determining what treatment is best.
Signs of aging
Just like your skin and hair, fingernails are made of a protein called keratin. And, just like your skin and hair, your fingernails may show signs of aging. In fact, aging is the most common cause of fingernail lines and is normally not any cause for concern. Apart from seeing more pronounced vertical lines, aging can also make your nails thicker or thinner and cause them to lose their shape. You may also notice that they split and break easier. However, if you’re experiencing symptoms that cause pain, you may want to visit your doctor.
Anemia is a condition that occurs when there are not enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to your body’s organs. The most common type of anemia is iron-deficiency. Anemia can cause vertical lines to appear on the nails — as well as dents. If you’re suddenly noticing vertical lines on your nails, and you’re experiencing symptoms such as weakness and severe fatigue, then you may be anemic.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a progressive and incapacitating autoimmune disease that causes inflammation, pain, and swelling around joints and body organs. It’s also known to cause vertical lines on the fingernails. A study that included 50 participants suffering from RA and 50 controlled subjects were given general skin and nail examinations. The only nail abnormalities significantly linked to rheumatoid arthritis were vertical lines on nine or ten fingernails of those participants suffering from RA. RA normally affects the hands and feet first, but it can occur in any joint.
If you have psoriasis, you should look carefully at your nails, suggests the American Academy of Dermatology, as you may be afflicted with nail psoriasis. Nail psoriasis normally develops years after psoriasis first appears on the skin. If you notice horizontal lines accompanied by any of the following signs on your nails, talk to your dermatologist. Treatment can clear your nails and reduce pain.
- Nail pits that look like tiny dents
- Discoloration (white, yellow or brown)
- Crumbling nails or nails that separate from the nail bed
- A buildup beneath your nail
- Blood under your nail
A myxoid cyst, also known as a mucous cyst, is a cyst that forms in the skin around or below the nail and puts pressure on the root of the nail. As a result, the nail develops a lateral line or groove extending outwards. According to research, once the cyst has been treated and healed, the line or ridging begins to disappear as the nail outgrows it.
Beau’s lines run horizontally along the nails, from one lateral edge of the nail to the other. The lines or ridges can appear when nail growth under the cuticle is interrupted by injury or severe illness. Horizontal lines should be taken seriously and discussed with your doctor. Diseases linked to Beau’s lines include:
- Type 2 diabetes — When your blood sugar levels are too high, even when treated. Typically causes symptoms such as urinating more often and being very thirsty.
- Peripheral vascular disease — A blood circulation ailment that causes blood vessels outside of the heart and brain to narrow, block, or shudder. Typically causes pain and fatigue.
- Zinc deficiency — Causes loss of appetite and impaired immune function. More severe cases of zinc deficiency may cause hair to fall out, diarrhea, sexual dysfunction, hypogonadism (males), eye and skin lesions, and delayed sexual maturation.
- Illnesses such as measles, mumps, scarlet fever, and pneumonia — often accompanied by a high fever.
And, when Beau’s lines develop on all 20 nails, it could be a symptom of thyroid disease, mumps, diabetes, or syphilis.
The bottom line
Vertical lines may be part of the aging process. However, horizontal lines on your fingernails may be indicative of something more serious. Either way, talk to your doctor to rule out any underlying conditions that might be causing your nails to become ridged.