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What Causes Dents in Your Fingernails?

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Skin, Hair & Nails related image Photo: Getty Images

When you look at your fingernails, do you see small depressions or dents in your fingernail? While they may seem like just a nuisance, they may be indicating there is something wrong. Several conditions may cause dents in your fingernails.


A skin condition called psoriasis causes plaques on the skin, which are build-ups of dry, rough and thick skin. These plaques can develop anywhere on the body, though common locations include the buttocks, knees, scalp and elbow.

Besides causing plaques, psoriasis can also result in dents in the fingernails and toenails. Patients with psoriasis can have flare-ups of symptoms, which can occur when they are sick or upset, or have a skin injury, severe sunburn or little exposure to the sun.

Consuming large amounts of alcohol may also trigger symptoms. Treatments for psoriasis include anthralin cream, steroid cream, tar preparation, salicylic acid cream and vitamin-D-like cream.

Reiter Syndrome

A type of reactive arthritis, Reiter syndrome occurs in response to a bacterial infection. Patients experience swelling and pain in the joints, as well as inflammation of the urinary tract and eyes.

The joints commonly affected include the feet, knees, spine and ankles, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Women tend to have milder symptoms compared to men.

Treatment for Reiter syndrome includes several different types of medication, include antibiotics, immunosuppressants, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids and tumor necrosis factor inhibitors.

Alopecia Areata

Alopecia areata is a condition characterized by hair loss, but may also cause dents in the fingernails. With alopecia areata, patients lose patches of their hair, usually hair on the scalp.

Patients with alopecia totalis lose all the hair of their scalps, while patients with alopecia universalis lose all of their body hair.

MedlinePlus noted that if the hair loss from the disorder is not widespread, then patients may regrow that hair in a few months, regardless if treatment is used.

Patients with alopecia areata may use steroid injections, topical minoxidil, topical corticosteroids, topical immunotherapy or ultraviolet light therapy as part of their treatment.

Incontinentia Pigmenti

Incontinentia pigmenti is a genetic disorder caused by mutations in the IKBKG gene. The disorder is uncommon: between 900 and 1,200 cases have been documented in the literature, with the majority of those patients being women, according to Genetics Home Reference.

Patients with incontinentia pigmenti have hyperpigmentation patches of skin that are in a swirled pattern during childhood, then lines of hypopigmentation on their legs and arms during adulthood. Dents in the fingernails and toenails may occur, as well as dental and eye abnormalities.


Go Ask Alice. Fingernails as Health Indicator. Web. 9 February 2012

Fawcettt RS, Linford SL and Stulberg DL. “Nail Abnormalities: Clues to Systemic Disease.” American Family Physician. 2004 March 15. Web. 9 February 2012

Columbia University Medical Center. Psoriasis. Web. 9 February 2012

University of Maryland Medical Center. Reiter Syndrome. Web. 9 February 2012

MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Alopecia Areata. Web. 9 February 2012

Genetics Home Reference. Incontinentia Pigmenti. Web. 9 February 2012

Reviewed February 9, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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February 9, 2012 - 1:18pm
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