Children and teenagers with rheumatology tend to have high levels of vitamin D deficiency, new research has shown.
Rheumatology refers to disorders of the muscles, tendons, bones, joints and connective tissues. Such disorders include arthritis, lupus and scleroderma.
Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, but is present in very few foods. It is also known as the sunshine vitamin, as it is made in the body when ultraviolet rays from sunlight strike the skin. However, Ireland's northerly latitude and lack of winter sunlight means that many people here cannot make enough vitamin D in this way, however supplements can be taken.
Two studies, which are due to be presented at a major conference in Dublin this week, indicate a high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in young patients with these conditions.
The first study from the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital found that almost three in four children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis have vitamin D deficiency. The children were aged between five and 13 and the scientists found that for some, their pain symptoms improved when they were given vitamin D supplements.
A second study by Nottingham University Hospitals found that 80% of young people with juvenile SLE (systemic lupus erythematosus) were deficient in vitamin D. Many of these had severe deficiencies.
Commenting on these findings, Dr Orla Killeen, a consultant paediatric rheumatologist at Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin, said that more research is needed in this area.
"We don't know yet what the long-term implications of vitamin D deficiency are in this patient group, but we can extrapolate from other studies which have shown wide-ranging clinical consequences of it," she said.
She called on doctors who are treating young rheumatology patients to be vigilant about checking for this vitamin deficiency.
This latest research will be presented at the British Society of Paediatric and Adolescent Rheumatology Conference in Dublin Castle on October 3-4. The conference has been brought to Ireland by the National Centre for Paediatric Rheumatology (NCPR) at Our Lady's Hospital in Crumlin and this marks the first time that it has been held outside the UK.