Fingernails are boring.
They grow, you cut them. Maybe you paint them. That’s really it.
But they can offer something more – a glimpse into your overall health. If something is happening in your body, it may be seen in your nails, as they start to change, sometimes developing ridges.
Depending on how the ridges in your fingernails look, you may need to visit your doctor.
This is the most common form of ridges in fingernails, affecting roughly 20 percent of adults.
According to Ivy Lee, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Pasadena, California, this is simply a sign of aging in the majority of cases. Fingernails are largely comprised of keratin, the same protein in your hair and outer layer of skin. And like skin getting drier and hair feeling rougher, your nails also change with age as the body struggles more and more with retaining moisture.
But if you see other changes in your nails – splitting or colour changes, for example – you may want to consult a doctor. In rare cases, ridges in fingernails could be a sign of anemia, rheumatoid arthritis, or cardiovascular problems.
Related: How to Have Healthy Nails
Also known as Beau’s lines, ridges in fingernails that run horizontal are less common and may make you double-take. They could signal disease or be the result of an old injury, says Dr. Lee. “They arise because there is a temporary stop in nail growth in the proximal nail matrix, where the fingernail is made,” she says. “They are most often benign and due to mechanical trauma: manicures, jamming your finger in the door, etc.”
But they can also indicate a skin disease like eczema, psoriasis, or chronic paronychia (an infection of the nail folds that makes the skin swollen and red). Horizontal fingernail ridges can also be a sign of systemic problems, for example an over- or underactive thyroid. If all 20 finger and toenails have Beau’s lines at the same time, it may mean an infection like pneumonia, mumps, or syphilis, or even a problem with the heart, liver, or kidneys. If you notice any of these symptoms in your nails, schedule an appointment with your doctor sooner rather than later.
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