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More than 140 people attended the Florida Lupus Foundation annual seminar April 18 and learned from a College of Medicine faculty physician the causes, symptoms and treatments of the disease.

Lupus affects the autoimmune system and can cause fatigue, skin conditions, sensitivity to sunlight, joint pain and inflammation of organs that can lead to kidney disorders and heart disease.

It’s estimated that 1.5 million people in the United States have the disease. Dr. Shazia Bég a rheumatologist at UCF Health, ­the College of Medicine’s physician practice, and a seminar speaker, said although there’s no cure for the lupus, patients can help control their symptoms if they take basic self-care steps. These include getting enough rest and stopping smoking.

“It’s difficult to study and treat because the characteristics of the disease differ in each person and there is no consistent data,” said Dr. Bég.

Thirty genes have been identified as increasing the likelihood of people developing lupus, but having those genes doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get the disease. Environmental factors such as exposure to silica dust from cement or sandblasting can also play a role in the risk of developing lupus. Certain drugs such as procainamide also may bring on symptoms. In addition, symptoms of lupus can mimic other medical conditions such as fibromyalgia, viral and bacterial infections, and even multiple sclerosis, making the condition difficult to diagnose.

Dr. Bég said the disease mostly affects women of child-bearing age. Approximately 1 in 700 women develop the disease and that number increases to 1 in 250 for African Americans, Hispanics and Asians.

“The more patients know, the better they can manage their condition,” said Maggie McQueen, chairwoman of the Lupus Foundation of Florida board The educational seminar, now in its 30th year, helps to shed light on what is often an invisible disease. “We can look healthy on the outside but it’s serious inside,” said McQueen, who was diagnosed with lupus 19 years ago.

About a hundred thousand Floridians suffer from lupus and the Lupus Foundation of Florida hopes that these seminars will help people understand the symptoms and seek medical help earlier.

McQueen said it’s important for newly diagnosed patients to know their limits and get plenty of rest, stay healthy, avoid stress and keep up with their medications.

“I want to be able to manage and be more aware of my symptoms,” said Brenda, a UCF Health patient of Dr. Bég’s who attended the seminar and was diagnosed with lupus four years ago.

The seminar stressed the importance of lupus patients working with their physicians to remain healthy. Dr. Shannon Miller from the University of Florida’s College of Pharmacy, located in Orlando’s Medical City, spoke about medications and treatment.

Brenda said she attended the seminar to become more empowered. “I want to be able to manage and be more aware of my symptoms,” she said.

Dr. Bég is board certified in internal medicine and rheumatology specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the joints, muscles and bones. She cares for patients at both UCF Health locations – on University and Quadrangle boulevards just blocks from the main UCF campus and at the new Medical City location at Narcoossee Road and Tavistock Lakes Boulevard.

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