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What Are the Causes of Brittle Fingernails That Crack & Split?

author image Lindsay Boyers
Lindsay Boyers has a Bachelor of Science in nutrition from Framingham State College and a certificate in holistic nutrition from the American College of Healthcare Sciences. She is also a licensed aesthetician with advanced training in skincare and makeup. She plans to continue on with her education, complete a master's degree program in nutrition and, ultimately, become a registered dietitian.
What Are the Causes of Brittle Fingernails That Crack & Split?
Malnutrition can result in brittle fingernails that crack and split.

Fingernails are composed of a strong protein called keratin that allows the nails to grow long without splitting or cracking. In order for keratin to produce strong nails, the body must be functioning properly. Underlying medical problems or malnutrition can disrupt proper body function and cause the nails to become brittle and more likely to crack and split.

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Lichen Planus

Lichen planus is an autoimmune condition that affects the skin and mucus membranes in the body. The inflammation is caused by an autoimmune response that causes the body to interpret normal cells in the skin and mucus membranes as potentially harmful invaders and attack them. The trigger of this autoimmune response is unknown. Symptoms of lichen planus differ based on which area of the body is affected. If the skin is affected, the symptoms include purplish bumps on the body, itchiness, crustiness and scabs. When lichen planus affects the nails, it can cause ridges in the nail, brittleness that results in thinning and splitting of the nail and nail loss. According to, lichen planus usually disappears on its own, however, it could take years. A variety of medications may be used to control itching while symptoms persist.


Hypoparathyroidism is a condition in which the parathyroid glands do not produce enough parathyroid hormone. The parathyroid glands are small glands located next to the thyroid gland in the front of the neck. Parathyroid hormones are responsible for controlling levels of calcium, phosphorous and vitamin D in the blood and bone, according to MedlinePlus, a service of the National Institutes of Health. When parathyroid hormone in the body is low, calcium levels in the blood decrease and phosphorus levels increase. Symptoms of hypoparathyroidism include brittle fingernails, abdominal pain, cataracts, dry hair, scaly skin, muscle cramps and spasms, pain and tingling in the lips, fingers and toes. Treatment for hypoparathyroidism usually consists of lifelong supplementation of calcium and vitamin D. MedlinePlus notes that following a diet high in calcium and low in phosphorous is also recommended.

Iron Deficiency Anemia

Iron-deficiency anemia is characterized by a low red blood cell count that occurs as a result of inadequate iron in the body. Iron is needed to make hemoglobin, the iron-rich protein component of red blood cells that carries oxygen to the tissues in the body. Without hemoglobin, oxygen cannot be delivered to the tissues of the body. This can result in fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, pale skin and gums, chest pain, brittle fingernails, inflammation of the tongue, cracks in the sides of the mouth and recurrent infections, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Iron-deficiency anemia is an easily treatable condition that can be corrected with an increase in dietary iron intake or iron supplementation. If iron-deficiency anemia occurs as a result of severe blood loss, blood transfusions may be needed.

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