Introduction: The aim of this study was to estimate the prevalence and determinants of vitamin D deficiency in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) as compared to healthy controls and to analyze the association between 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D) with disease activity and disability.
Methods: The study includes 1,191 consecutive RA patients (85% women) and 1,019 controls, not on vitamin D supplements, from 22 Italian rheumatology centres. Together with parameters of disease activity, functional impairment, and mean sun exposure time, all patients had serum 25(OH)D measured in a centralized laboratory.
Results: A total of 55% of RA patients were not taking vitamin D supplements; the proportion of these with vitamin D deficiency (25(OH)D level <20 ng/ml) was 52%. This proportion was similar to that observed in control subjects (58.7%). One third of supplemented patients were still vitamin D deficient. In non-supplemented RA patients 25(OH)D levels were negatively correlated with the Health Assessment Questionnaire Disability Index, Disease Activity Score (DAS28), and Mobility Activities of daily living score. Significantly lower 25(OH)D values were found in patients not in disease remission or responding poorly to treatment, and with the highest Steinbrocker functional state. Body mass index (BMI) and sun exposure time were good predictors of 25(OH)D values (P < 0.001). The association between disease activity or functional scores and 25(OH)D levels remained statistically significant even after adjusting 25(OH)D levels for both BMI and sun exposure time.
Conclusions: In RA patients vitamin D deficiency is quite common, but similar to that found in control subjects; disease activity and disability scores are inversely related to 25(OH)D levels.