The patients' reasons for encounter were recorded in 10 278 personal doctor-patient contacts in nine Norwegian municipalities over a two-month period, and were classified according to a simplified version of the WHO "Reason for Encounter Classification". A two-dimensional classification system was used where each reason was classified according to the location and type of problem. Symptoms and complaints made up 64.9% of all encounters. Most of the encounters were related to the musculo-skeletal, circulatory and female genital systems. The most frequent single reason for encounter was pain in the musculo-skeletal system (15.5% of all encounters). Psychological and social reasons were rather infrequent 3.1% and 0.3%. Compared with the frequencies of psychiatric and social diagnoses recorded in general practice, this indicates a discrepancy between the patient's own opinion of problems and the doctor's interpretations. Females had a significantly higher contact rate than males, mainly due to problems related to the genital system, inclusive of the breast.