OBJECTIVE: Memory complaints in the absence of objective test impairments are common. Only a subset of these subjects seeks medical attention for these complaints. The aim of the present study was to investigate which factors determine why people with subjective memory complaints (SMC) seek medical attention. METHODS: Thirty-three cases with SMC from a memory clinic were compared to 85 control subjects with SMC from a population-based study who did not seek help for their complaints. We investigated whether cases differed from controls with respect to the following: depressive and anxiety symptoms (SCL-90), extraversion and neuroticism (EPQ), meta-memory (MIA), quality of life (SF-36), changes in memory and daily functioning according to a relative (DECO), life-changing events, and a family history of dementia. RESULTS: Cases with SMC who seek medical attention, scored lower on memory self-efficacy and quality of life. They were more often worried due to a positive family history of dementia by comparison to the control subjects. Relatives of cases reported more deterioration in daily functioning than relatives of controls. Both the cases and control subjects had similar levels of depressive and anxiety symptoms, as well as levels of extraversion and neuroticism. CONCLUSION: Lower memory self-efficacy and quality of life, deterioration in daily functioning, and worries due to a positive family history for dementia are factors that determine why subjects with SMC seek medical attention. This information may be useful for the development of interventions for these subjects.