OBJECTIVES:We aimed to explore how menstrual symptoms affect women, women's health care needs, and their expectations and experiences when seeking care; to identify ways to assist women in having their needs met. METHODS:Qualitative research using focus group methodology was carried out. Identification of women experiencing menstrual symptoms through a random community survey of 200 women aged 30-50 years in the Hunter region of New South Wales. Focus group discussions were recorded and transcripts were analysed. RESULTS:All women attending focus groups had sought medical advice for their menstrual problems. Having one doctor with whom they felt comfortable was important. Women expressed difficulties asking questions and were concerned that symptoms may not be taken seriously or may be dismissed as psychological. There was widespread acceptance of alternative 'natural' therapies. CONCLUSIONS:Interactions between doctors (particularly GPs) and women with menstrual symptoms are central to how women perceive the care they receive. There is a need for doctors to demonstrate empathy. For many women, what they needed most from their doctors was to be understood and 'to know they weren't alone'.