Clin Rheumatol. 2013 Jan 23.
Higgins MJ, Mackie SL, Thalayasingam N, Bingham SJ, Hamilton J, Kelly CA.
Department of Rheumatology, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Sheriff Hill, Gateshead, NE96SX, UK.
Disease activity in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is assessed by a combination of objective and subjective tests, combined to produce a disease activity score in 28 joints (DAS28). There is some evidence that RA disease activity, as assessed by DAS28, can be influenced by vitamin D levels. It is difficult to know whether this is due to a true immunomodulatory effect of vitamin D or a more subjective effect of low vitamin D on pain perception. We addressed this issue by comparing vitamin D levels with disease activity, analysing each component of the DAS28 score separately. We measured 25-hydroxy vitamin D levels in 176 outpatients with RA at two different centres and recorded a DAS28 score using an ESR checked at the same time. We calculated DAS28 both with and without the patient's rating of their symptoms on the visual analogue score (VAS) to assess the effect of VAS on DAS28. The vitamin D results were expressed as nanomole per litre with 50 nmol/l taken as the lower limit of normal. We calculated mean levels of vitamin D and undertook a multivariate regression analysis to assess correlations between vitamin D levels and DAS28 (and its individual components), corrected for centre, age and gender. The overall mean DAS28 score was 3.66 (SE ± 0.11) using all four criteria and 3.43 (SE ± 0.10) using just three criteria (omitting VAS). The mean vitamin D level was 39.42 nmol/l (SE ± 1.55). There was no significant correlation between vitamin D and DAS28 scores with or without the inclusion of VAS. However, there was a significant inverse relationship between vitamin D and VAS itself (coefficient = 0.249, p = 0.013). The mean DAS28 score was greater in vitamin D-deficient patients and this was explained by their higher VAS scores. Our data confirms that vitamin D deficiency is common in RA. This paper provides evidence that the VAS component, assessing patient perception of symptoms, is inversely related to vitamin D, with lower levels producing higher VAS values. Although there was no overall correlation between vitamin D levels and DAS28, patients may perceive themselves or be perceived by assessors as having responded less well to disease modification in the presence of vitamin D deficiency. This could have major implications for subsequent management, and clinicians need to be aware of the potential confounding effect of vitamin D deficiency in assessing RA disease activity using the full DAS28 tool.