What Does It Mean When You Have Ridges On Your Fingernails?

You might not think about your fingernails very much beyond cutting them every once in a while. Or maybe you paint them or get them done at the salon, seeing them as a way to express yourself and your sense of style. But it turns out that our fingernails may actually be an indicator of our overall health, if we pay attention.

Nail health can often reveal other problems going on inside our bodies, according to Healthline. Most often, it can point to poor nutritional intake or poor digestion. But sometimes it can indicate more serious conditions, like kidney disease. 

When the body is meeting other, more pressing demands elsewhere it directs energy away from growing nails, which is a lower priority than, say, fighting an infection (via Mayo Clinic). This can sometimes cause abnormalities in the nails, indicating that something bigger is going on, until they resume growing again.

What the direction of your nail ridges can mean

It's common to have vertical ridges on the nails, which run from the bottom to the tip, notes The Healthy. In fact, 20% of adults will develop vertical ridges, which are usually just a sign of aging. Hair, skin, and nails contain the same protein, keratin. And, just as the hair and skin get drier as we age, so do our nails. This can often lead to vertical ridges as our nails struggle to retain moisture.

It's less common to experience horizontal ridges on the nails, or ridges that run side to side. These are known as Beau's lines. Often, they can be due to injury to the nail bed that stops the nail from growing, like jamming your finger in the door or getting injured during a manicure. But sometimes these horizontal lines can be due to something more serious, like acute kidney disease. If Beau's lines show up on all 20 fingernails and toenails, it could be a symptom of parathyroid disease, mumps, unmanaged diabetes, syphilis, respiratory conditions, illnesses with prolonged fevers, or zinc deficiency. They can also be a side effect of chemotherapy, says Healthline. If you're unsure whether to be concerned about ridges in your nails, see a dermatologist.