It Wasn’t Something He Ate

Canada’s finance minister, Jim Flaherty, 63, recent balloon-like appearance can be blamed on drugs. Not drugs that would have his Mounties bodyguards switching from security to drug squad mode, but powerful corticosteroids prescribed to treat a rare skin condition called bullous pemphigoid.

Poor Flaherty. Doctors don’t yet understand why a patient’s immune system reacts to its own skin, causing large blisters to form between the outer layer of skin, (epidermis) and the next layer (dermis). Arms, thighs and lower abdomen are most often involved. The usually affable politician has reportedly been uncharacteristically grumpy of late and no wonder. The blistered areas can be quite itchy, something that can be as difficult to bear as chronic pain. Ruptured blisters can cause sores that can become infected, a serious matter for people whose health is fragile. (The disease generally occurs in people over 60.)

The finance minister suffered for months, until his doctor prescribed prednisone, a long-acting corticosteroid. In an interview with the Globe and Mail, he admitted he’s been coping with some side effects of the medication, including weight gain and the redness and puffiness apparent in his face, as well as sleep disruption.

Treatment may be prolonged but is usually effective. Flaherty, who didn’t appear to let the discomfort he’d been feeling interfere with his job, describes himself as “an old hockey player,” and seems confident that he’s on the road to recovery.

For more information on bullous pemphigoid, visit and the Canadian Pemphigus and Pemphigoid Foundation at