The purpose of the study was to describe the physical complaints and symptoms of persistent somatization patients. Individuals in the general population (age 17-49 yr) with at least 10 general admissions during an 8-yr period were studied. Persistent somatizers (i.e. patients with more than six medically unexplained general admissions) were compared with patients whose admissions could be ascribed to well-defined somatic disorders. Somatizers were characterized by multiple symptoms from many organ systems, and their physical complaints simulated most types of somatic disorder. Although some symptoms were more common than others, none were infrequent, so neither 'classic' conversion symptoms nor pain symptoms were found to be especially characteristic of the persistent somatizer. Gender had no influence on number of registered symptoms, whereas the number increases with age. The finding question the use of a predefined symptom checklist in the diagnostic criteria for somatizing disorder. The major part of the somatizers present a different illness picture when admitted with medically unexplained disorders compared with admission for which no adequate medical explanation could be found. However, one fifth had, when admitted with a medically explained diagnosis, also been admitted with the diagnosis medically unexplained at another admission. One fifth of the persistent somatizers had been admitted at least once for factitious illness, but apart from the fact that they had more symptoms and admissions, they did not differ from the other persistent somatizers.