What Causes Toenail Ridges?

Marlene Garcia

Toenail ridges might appear as a normal part of aging, indicate a serious illness, or serve as a sign of poison ingestion. Ridges also commonly develop after injury to a toenail, which usually becomes discolored. Certain viral and bacterial infections are also linked to ridged toenails, and some medications might produce them.

Toenail infections may cause toenail ridges.
Toenail infections may cause toenail ridges.

As part of the diagnostic process, doctors typically look at whether horizontal or vertical toenail ridges appear. Vertical ridges commonly develop gradually as a person ages, extending from the cuticle to the tip of the nail. When ridges suddenly develop without injury, however, they might signal a health condition that needs attention.

Toenail injuries may lead to the development of toenail ridges.
Toenail injuries may lead to the development of toenail ridges.

Arsenic, chemical poisoning, or plant toxins might lead to fingernail or toenail ridges, which might be accompanied by discoloration. These substances might disrupt cell division, causing nails to stop growing. Nutritional deficiencies, especially with absorption of calcium and lack of iron in the diet, might also show up as nail ridges.

Plant toxins may lead to toenail ridges.
Plant toxins may lead to toenail ridges.

A certain form of toenail ridge, called a Beau’s line, consists of deep grooves across the entire nail surface. These ridges were named after a French doctor who first linked nail ridges to various disorders. Patients with circulatory or thyroid problems might develop nail deformities as symptoms of these disorders. Ridges might also appear in patients with diabetes left uncontrolled by medication or diet.

Patients with thyroid problems may develop nail deformities.
Patients with thyroid problems may develop nail deformities.

Some toenail ridges develop from a viral or bacterial infection that has been resolved. This can occur when a high fever affects cells throughout the body. The ridges in the nail indicate when the infection existed, but usually grow out over time.

Doctors typically look for other symptoms when a patient notices ridges on fingernails or toenails, especially when horizontal grooves are present and appear suddenly. Early diagnosis of an underlying condition might prevent serious complications, including vomiting and diarrhea leading to dehydration. If poison is identified as the culprit, treatment should start before organs shut down and the patient lapses into a coma.

When a ridge stems from injury, a patient should watch for infection. Any sign of pus or fluid in the nail bed might require antibiotics. Severe injury to a toenail or fingernail typically causes the nail to darken, and it may fall off. Trauma to a nail also commonly causes pain, which might increase if infection sets in.

Severely infected toenails may require surgical removal.
Severely infected toenails may require surgical removal.

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Discussion Comments


I think horizontal toenail and nail ridges are more indicative of a problem than vertical ridges. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and type 2 diabetes around the same time last year. Months before my diagnosis, I started getting horizontal ridges on my nails and toenails. I didn't think anything of it then. But now that I think about it, I'm sure they were signaling my health problems.


@donasmrs-- Practically everyone has ridges on their nails. What's more important is what the ridges look like and whether you've noticed changes in them recently.

As we get older, we get more ridges on our nails like the article said. If you consistently get the same kind of fine ridges, then they're probably just due to age. These ridges can also be due to variation in the amount of vitamins and minerals you're getting in your diet.

I would worry if the ridges change all of the sudden. If you start getting different looking ridges, and deeper ridges, there might be an underlying health condition. So just keep track of how your nails and toenails look.


I had never taken notice of ridges on my toenails before. But I painted my nails today and the nail polish made the ridges very apparent. The ridges are just fine horizontal lines in the center of my toenails.

These are normal right?

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