To identify factors associated with the decision to consult with dyspepsia, patients with dyspepsia were identified from a postal survey in the community. A random sample of 69 patients who had consulted their general practitioner and 66 patients with dyspepsia who had not consulted were interviewed in their homes. Differences in consultation behaviour were not explained by differences in self-reported severity or frequency of symptoms or by the presence of associated symptoms. The most striking difference between the two groups was concern among the consulters about the possible seriousness of symptoms. Consulters were also more likely to be worried about cancer and heart disease and to have experienced more disruptive or threatening life events than the non-consulters. These results emphasize the importance of looking beyond the presentation of common symptoms in general practice to patients' fears about the significance of the symptoms and to non-physical determinants of consultation behaviour.