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What Do Fingernail Ridges Indicate?

By Andy Hill
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The fingernails can be a good indicator of potential anomalies in the body. Nail abnormalities, such as white spots or vertical and horizontal fingernail ridges, can be indicators of mineral deficiencies, circulatory problems, or even underlying diseases. The fingernails are similar to the trunk of a tree in that they can document occurrences in the lifespan of the nail.

The most common form of fingernail ridges are vertical ridges; these ridges run from the base of the nail plate to the tip and are generally parallel. Due to the fingernail anatomy, these ridges are formed by the nail plate moving forward on the nail bed. Moisture and oil levels present in the nail plate and bed can reduce with age, which in turn, leads to an increased prominence of vertical ridges. The use of chemical cleaning products can also increase their prominence as these products reduce oil levels in the nail plate. These ridges are not usually a sign of poor health or underlying disease, and they can be reduced through the application of vitamin E oil to the cuticle and nail plate.

Horizontal fingernail ridges can indicate underlying health issues but may also be caused by trauma. Some horizontal ridges can be caused through interruptions to the nail plate growth following dietary change, from physical trauma — such as impact trauma or other nail bed injuries — or severe emotional stress. They are known as Beau’s lines. These depressions in the nail plate can also be caused during illness and may disappear following a recovery period.

Other kinds of nail abnormalities are Muehrcke’s lines and Mee’s lines. Muehrcke’s lines are parallel pairs of white, indented lines that run transversely across the nail. They do not follow the path of the nail growth and do not move toward the tip of the nail over time. Muehrcke’s lines can indicate kidney disease, liver disease, and forms of malnutrition. Mee’s lines are a rare form of fingernail ridge and are normally an indicator of arsenic poisoning; unlike Muehrcke’s lines, Mee’s lines travel along the nail bed as the nail plate grows. Medical consultation is recommended following the development of any kind of horizontal nail ridges, as they are a key indicator of underlying health issues.

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Discussion Comments
By anon324998 — On Mar 13, 2013

I am 66 and have a vertical ridge on my left big toe for as long as I can remember. One side of my nail for the past couple of years is sinking into my flesh, causing a great amount of pain. There is also a constant burning sensation from it. This nail sometimes breaks in the middle where the ridge ends in a semi circle.

I believe the nailbed suffered injury when I was a child. I have to shave off the curving ridge so my nail stops touching the toe box of my shoes.

By anon319601 — On Feb 13, 2013

I have transverse lines (Beau's Lines) combined with spooning in the center of nails on my thumbs only. All other finger and toe nails are normal. Any idea why this condition is limited to thumbs only?

By anon317683 — On Feb 03, 2013

I have three beau's lines on one big toe and two on the other foot. I've read you can estimate the time the 'issue' happened by the growth but am not good at math. Has anyone else figured out how to do this? Trying to think back why I have these, maybe when a relative died, maybe other things, will also mention it to my doctor the next time I have to go.

By matthewc23 — On Nov 06, 2011

@kentuckycat - From your description, it sounds like you could possibly have something called Terry nails. It is characterized by regular looking nails with dark brown strips at the ends. If that is what it is, it can indicate some pretty serious things like diabetes, liver disease, heart failure, and malnutrition. Take some looks at pictures online and see if you think that's what it is. If your nails look similar, I would definitely ask my doctor about it.

Even though they are not necessarily fingernail ridges, everyone should also be aware of fingernail clubbing and spooning, which can also be indicators of different problems. With clubbing, the nail starts to grow over the side of the finger and can indicate lung and liver problems. Spooning is just a cupping of the nail and can show iron deficiencies.

By kentuckycat — On Nov 05, 2011

@titans62 - I think your explanations all make sense. I would be curious to hear if anyone has a more medical explanation.

As I was reading this article, I was looking at my fingernails. For Muehrcke’s lines, how distinct would the white lines be? Do they form on every nail or can it just be on a few. I have a couple nails that kind of look like they might have a white line, but I'm not sure.

I don't think I really have that, but I did find something else interesting. On the tips of my fingernails are sort of dark reddish colored sections that follow the curve of the nail. Is this normal or is it another indicator of something? I think I'll search around and see if I can find anything else about it.

By titans62 — On Nov 05, 2011

So, what causes the ridges in fingernails, exactly? The article talks about problems with the nailbed, but what causes that?

I looked at some pictures of Beau's lines, and I could see how that would happen. If you are under a lot of stress, your body would probably stop making as much keratin, which is what is used to make hair and nails. Without as much, you would have dips in the nails because they wouldn't be formed as thick as normal.

I could kind of see with Mee's lines, too, where the arsenic would get deposited in the nails or something. I guess what I'm really wondering about is how Muehrcke’s lines form as a result of liver and kidney problems. Would it have something to do with the blood supply to the fingers?

By cardsfan27 — On Nov 04, 2011

I always think reading about using fingernails as a way to potentially diagnose certain problems is interesting. I am typically not one of the people that believes in not using medical tests, but in this case, fingernails have been proven to be pretty good indicators. That being said, I don't think I would ever want a doctor taking any radical action just based on what she saw on my fingernails.

I used to be worried about the vertical ridges, too, so it's good to know they don't mean anything bad is happening. My ridges are kind of prominent, at least they seem so. I might try some vitamin E oil on a hand and see what it does. My problem is that I have had a few fingers smashed in doors and different things over the years, so a few of my nails have odd ridges and thick parts in them because of that.

By sweetPeas — On Nov 03, 2011

I always thought ridges on the fingernails indicated problems with the thyroid. I do have vertical ridges, but I'm glad I found out they are due to inadequate oil in the nail bed. I do have low thyroid, but it stays in balance with medication.

It seems like stress to the whole body is shown by horizontal ridges on the nails. It's like they say - the state of health of your body is shown by how your fingernails look.

By OeKc05 — On Nov 03, 2011

@Perdido – It's good that you are applying cuticle oil. I apply it several times a week, but I keep my nails bare. There is one thing you can do after you remove your polish that will help you get rid of the ridges, at least for a few weeks.

I use a nail buffer, which is a sort of sanding block. It has four sides, and each one has a different coarseness of sandpaper attached. The roughest side is for toenails, but the other three are for both.

Use the next roughest side first. Rub it back and forth quickly in a horizontal motion across your nails. Do this seven times.

Next, use the slightly smoother side, and buff your nails nine times. Finally, use the ultra smooth side, and buff them eleven times. This side will smooth out any roughness and polish your nails to a shine.

When you have finished buffing your nails, apply the cuticle oil. Give it fifteen minutes to soak into your nail bed before applying polish.

By Perdido — On Nov 03, 2011

When I saw the title of this article, I worried for a second. I was relieved when I read on to find that vertical ridges are normal. I have had them for awhile now, and I'm glad to know that all they indicate is a lack of lubrication.

I keep my nails painted all the time, and while that does provide some protection against the elements and various cleaning products, I'm sure it probably saps them of some moisture as well. I apply cuticle oil once a week after I remove my polish, but I immediately put a different color polish on, so they don't get much time to breathe.

I'm getting on up there in years, so I'm sure that part of the reason I have them is the aging process. Aside from applying oil, is there anything I can do to get rid of the ridges?

By lighth0se33 — On Nov 02, 2011

@cloudel – That is a terrible tragedy! No wonder it affected her physically.

While I haven't had enough emotional stress to damage my body, I have had some physical pain. A man who was working on my car accidentally slammed the hood on my fingers, trapping them underneath.

They throbbed for days. I developed horizontal nail ridges along the line where the car hood hit, and I was afraid the nails were going to fall off.

They hung in there, and within a month, they had grown out enough that I could trim the ridged part with nail clippers. I'm so glad they didn't fall off, because having that much exposed nail bed could have led to all sorts of injury and infection.

By cloudel — On Nov 01, 2011

I have seen Beau's lines on my friend's fingernails. She lost her husband a few months ago to a heart attack, and he was only in his thirties. They had five children, and she did not make enough money to support the family.

All that emotional strain caused many bad things to happen in her body. She suffered a mild heart attack herself. Her hair started falling out in wads, and she got horizontal ridges on her fingernails.

For awhile, her family was afraid that she might die, too. She managed to maintain her strength and will to live for her children, though.

Her horizontal lines are growing out now. Soon, she will be able to trim them off.

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