What happens when your body wages war on itself? When the immune system that’s supposed to protect you from disease suddenly attacks healthy cells and tissues? The 1.5 million Americans with lupus are living that scenario. Their chronic rheumatic disease causes symptoms such as extreme fatigue, pain and disfiguring rashes and can cause damage to the patient’s kidneys, heart, lungs and brain. On April 8, healthcare providers and lupus patients will meet at the College of Medicine to discuss the latest treatments and research on the disease.

Several hundred people are expected at the 32nd annual Lupus Foundation of Florida event.

Dr. Michelle Petri, director of the Johns Hopkins Lupus Center and an international expert on lupus is the featured speaker and will talk about the need for multidisciplinary healthcare teams to treat lupus patients. Also presenting will be the College of Medicine’s Dr. Stephen Berman, a neurologist who will speak on the impacts of lupus on the brain.

Dr. Shazia Beg, a medical school faculty member and rheumatologist at UCF Health, the College of Medicine physician practice, said lupus experts are trying to increase public awareness of the condition. Many of its symptoms, like fatigue, are non-specific, leading many patients to be misdiagnosed for months and years. She’s working to make primary care physicians aware of new, more sensitive tests that can confirm the condition earlier and help patients get earlier treatments. “Lupus can affect the whole body. It’s a multi-system condition,” said Dr. Beg, who is the seminar’s course director and medical advisor. “So it can impact greatly the patient’s quality of life. For that reason, as physicians we need to practice with a team approach to address all facets of the disease.”

Stress, fatigue and common illnesses like the flu can trigger a lupus flare. So healthcare professionals must work together to keep lupus patients physically, emotionally and spiritually well to maintain wellness, she said.

Dr. Patricia Weinstein, education chairman of the foundation, holds a doctorate in nursing and specializes in the care of patients with lupus and other rheumatic conditions. In 2009, she began a partnership between the Lupus Foundation of Florida and the UCF College of Nursing, which offers a research award to nursing faculty and students who do lupus-related research. The partnership is the only one in the country.

Dr. Weinstein said seminar leaders hope healthcare professionals in primary care and subspecialties who encounter patients with lupus will attend to learn more about the disease and that nursing and medical students will find opportunities to learn from lupus patients and their families.

Registration for the event is free and includes continuing education credits (CMEs and CEUs). Pre-registration deadline is April 2. For more information, please visit tinyurl.com/lupusseminar  or call 407-342-5467.