Longitudinal ridging is found on the nails in the shape of vertical marks or lines running from the base of the fingernail to the top. The ridges are raised lines which can be caused by a number of factors. Most people will have a couple of these lines even if they are perfectly healthy.
The degree of ridging may be more severe if there is a problem during the growth phrase of the nail. Horizontal lines and marks, which are called Beau’s lines, may be a warning of a health issue.
Is longitudinal ridging indicative of a health issue?
The vertical lines running from the cuticle to the top of the nail are nothing to be worried about. In most cases such longitudinal ridging is simply a side effect of the normal aging process of nails. In addition nails often lose their luster as they age and may appear opalescent and dull. This is not an indication of a serious disease but of the failing regeneration properties of an aging human body.
Some people may have deeper ridges which can feel a bit rough to the touch. The folds in the nails are deeper and cause the nail surface to become uneven. Often these ridges are accompanied by brittle nails that are prone to splitting and leave behind jagged edges.
In this case the person may be suffering from a medical condition called Onychorrhexis. This can be caused by a number of medical conditions; hence it is a good idea to have the doctor pay attention to longitudinal ridging if it has recently begun appearing on the nails.
Development of a normal nail
The nails are essentially a modification of the epidermis or the outer most layer of skin tissue. They would evolutionarily equate to the claws and hoofs of animals. The development of this protective covering on the ends of the digits allowed humans some protection in performing tasks. The nail is composed of hard keratin. It is composed of two parts; a distal (exposed) part and a proximal (hidden) part which is also known as the root.
The nail bed has blood capillaries which feed the opaque exposed part of the nail. As the cells at the root grow from the cuticle region they push out the older cells. They will continue to move along the nail bed and retain their pink color till they move past it.
Then they change color again and this is the portion of dead nail which needs to be trimmed. Nails grow about 2.5 millimeters in a month, which means a nail renews itself in about four to six months. Also the fingernails grow faster than the toenails. Generally nails grow faster in the summer than in the winter. Plus as a person ages, the slower the nails grow.
The nails are immediately affected when the body is fighting an infection, or facing a nutritional deficiency. This is because the capillaries feeding the nail bed tend to pass on the infected blood to the nails.
Doctors are able to check for problems with blood circulations and other health issues by simply checking the state of your nails. When the body is healthy the nails are evenly formed and pink in color. However discoloration, dullness, thickening of the nail, etc. may be indicative of a problem to be identified.
Why are longitudinal ridges formed?
The most common reason for the formation of the vertical or longitudinal ridges in the absence of an actual disease is the lack of moisture and improper nutrition. As the nails age their capacity to absorb nutrients diminishes and this naturally affects their growth. The vertical ridges often form in aging nails. They are not a reason for alarm. However in some cases the longitudinal ridging may be the indication of underlying health issues.
Onychorrhexis or brittle nails along with longitudinal ridging is caused due to peripheral vascular disease, myxoid cysts, lichen plants, Darier’s disease, and trachyonychia to name a few. These diseases can be genetic, or caused due to physical and emotional stress. Some may result due to viral infections, while others may be an auto immune response of the body. There is no single reason for Longitudinal Ridging and, as such, there is no single treatment.
Prognosis and accurate diagnosis can help in the treatment of longitudinal ridging. Depending on the precision of the treatment the ridges may clear up completely in some cases. Naturally the nails already affected will not change, however the fresh growth may be void of the ridging if the underlying medical problem has been resolved. It may take anywhere between six months to a few years for this to happen. In some diseases the ridging may be a symptom that is difficult to eliminate.
Reviewed by Afsaneh Khetrapal, BSc (Hons)