The good news is that patients might be able to change both risk factors, says Ian Bruce, MD. He is a professor of rheumatology at the University of Manchester.
Bruce presented his research at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology.
Lupus affects an estimated 160,000 or more U.S. adults. Many more women than men are affected.
Symptoms include skin rashes, arthritis, fatigue, and fever. The cause is not known but is believed to be tied to genetic and environmental factors.
Bruce followed about 1,500 patients with lupus, mostly women, between 2000 and 2011. He tracked them to see if damage from the disease had gotten worse. More than half of patients reported some kind of damage.
Besides high blood pressure and steroid use, he found other risk factors in patients whose disease got worse. They include:
Being of African descent within the U.S.
Having higher lupus damage at the beginning of the study
Bruce found taking anti-malarial drugs protected lupus patients from worsening damage.
As a next step, he says, studies are needed to test whether controlling blood pressure and reducing steroid use will help lupus patients.
Bruce reports receiving research grants from GlaxoSmithKline and Roche Pharmaceuticals and consulting fees from UCB and BMS.
These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary, as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.