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Oscar Pretorius

In the ongoing Oscar Pistorius murder case, the Olympic athlete's attorneys have claimed that he suffers from Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which caused him to react the way he did on the night he allegedly perceived Reeva Steenkamp to be an intruder.

We take a quick look at the condition, its symptoms, and what can be done to treat it.

What is GAD?

Those affected by GAD suffer from excessive, uncontrollable anxiety and worry - which is often irrational. Sufferers can find it difficult to function on a day-to-day basis as they are constantly worrying about everyday things such as health, money, personal relationships and problems at work.

This heightened anxiety may lead to physical symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia, muscle aches, trembling, sweating, nausea, hot flashes, irritability and agitation.

While most of us may experience some form of these symptoms from time to time, people with GAD have them on more days than not. To separate GAD from regular anxiety, these symptoms have to persist for more than six months in order for a person to be diagnosed with the disorder.

In addition, GAD often goes hand-in-hand with other mental illnesses – commonly depression – and thus must be treated accordingly.

Who suffers from it?

GAD can be genetic and triggered by stressful life situations such as changing jobs, having a baby or even dealing with physical illness. Interestingly, women are twice as likely as men to develop GAD – with an article in the Scientific American indicating that this arises from a combination of hormonal fluctuations, brain chemistry and upbringing.

Manifestation of GAD may also be substance-induced and research has found that long-term use of substances such as benzodiazepines can have an impact. These particular drugs are a double-edged sword as they are prescribed to curb anxiety, but if taken long-term can actually worsen the anxiety. Long-term alcohol use and smoking has also been linked to GAD, and experts advise those who suffer from GAD reduce their caffeine intake.

Anything that causes stress can potentially trigger GAD, but it's fairly rare, with only approximately three percent of the population worldwide suffering from it.  Although the age at which the disorder might manifest can differ widely, stats show that the median age of being diagnosed is around 32.

How to treat it

Medical professionals usually use a combination of different types of therapy and medication to treat GAD. While it has been found that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy may be the most effective way to treat GAD, medication is often prescribed to lessen the symptoms of anxiety and to treat co-existing depression or other mental illnesses.

These drugs include SSRI anti-depressants, short-term use of benzodiapezines and also something called Pregabalin, which has become the drug of choice to treat the symptoms of anxiety due to its consistent therapeutic effects.

Other types of therapy used to treat GAD include acceptance and commitment therapy, intolerance and uncertainty therapy, as well as motivational interviewing.

 While GAD is a serious disorder and may become persistent over the long term, it has been shown that it can be effectively managed – and even eliminated – through proper treatment.

If you believe that you or a loved one are suffering from GAD, speak to your doctor, who can assess your symptoms and refer you to a therapist or psychiatrist. You can also the South African Depression and Anxiety Group website at for more information.  

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