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Flaherty diagnosed with bullous pemphigoid: But what is it?

Left: Jim Flaherty, Canada's finance minister, pauses while speaking during a television interview on day one of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012; Right: Finance Minister Jim Flaherty poses for portrait in his Parliament Hill office Jan. 30, 2013.

Left: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg; Right: Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail

What is it?

A skin disease that causes blisters, which can appear on the body as well as inside the mouth, the larynx and nasal cavities. It can affect people of all ages, but is most common among those over 60.

What causes it?

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There is no clear understanding of the cause.

How rare is the disease?

It is extremely rare. There are no Canadian stats. However, European data indicate that the incidence rate of bullous pemphigoid can range from seven cases per million per year to 43 per million per year, depending on the country.

What is the treatment?

Mild cases are generally treated with a topical cream. If the condition worsens, an oral steroid such as prednisone is commonly prescribed.

What are the side effects?

Taking prednisone can cause side effects such as puffiness, weight gain and difficulty sleeping.

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What is the outlook for patients with bullous pemphigoid?

Before the advent of corticosteroids, a related condition called pemphigus had a high fatality rate, with 70 per cent of patients dying within the first year, according to the International Pemphigus and Pemphigoid Foundation. With steroid treatment, the foundation says most patients will enter a partial remission within two to five years.

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