TORONTO - Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has revealed he is suffering from a skin condition called bullous pemphigoid.

Some facts about the rare ailment:

WHAT IT IS: A skin condition that causes large fluid-filled blisters to form on the skin. The blisters, called bullae, typically form on the trunk, thighs, arms, in the groin and armpits and sometimes in the mouth. The blisters often form at creases in the skin. They can break open and form open sores or ulcers. Skin infections can result.

THE SYMPTOMS: In addition to the blisters, symptoms can include severe itching, rashes and bleeding gums.

THE CAUSE: Unknown. It is an auto-immune condition that occurs when the immune system attacks a thin layer of tissue under the outer layer of the skin. While a trigger isn't generally identified, some cases are linked to previous use of some medications or exposure to UV light therapy or radiation treatment for cancer.

WHO GETS IT: It is mainly seen in people over 60. Though rare, the risk of developing the condition increases with age.

THE TREATMENT: Doctors often prescribe corticosteroids; Flaherty is on one, prednisone. Drugs to suppress the immune system and anti-inflammatory drugs may also be used.

THE PROGNOSIS: The condition can be life-threatening in older people in poor health. But it generally responds well to treatment and it can go into remission. Most people who suffer from the condition can eventually stop their drug regimen, but the disease sometimes returns.

Information sources: The Mayo Clinic and PubMed Health.

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