Adult patients with medically unexplained symptoms (somatisation) in primary care are numerous and make disproportionately high demands on health services. Most of these individuals are open to the suggestion that their illness reflects psychological needs. Empowering explanations from doctors can enable patient and doctor to work collaboratively in managing the problem and can reduce healthcare contacts. Parental medically unexplained symptoms, sexual and physical abuse in childhood and childhood neglect are associated with a greater risk of medically unexplained symptoms in adulthood. The overall prognosis for the majority of primary care patients with medically unexplained symptoms is very good. The two most common approaches to dealing with medically unexplained symptoms in primary care are stepped-care approaches and teaching general practitioners new skills to manage consultations more effectively.