Dystonia is a syndrome characterized by sustained muscle contraction, provoking twisting and repetitive movements or abnormal postures. It may be classified according to etiology, as idiopathic or symptomatic. We studied 122 Brazilian patients with a dystonic syndrome. Of these, 46 (37.7%) had symptomatic dystonia. The most frequent cause was tardive dystonia (34.8%) followed by perinatal cerebral injury (30.4%). Other causes were stroke (13.0%), encephalitis (6.5%) and Wilson's disease (4.3%). Cranial trauma, mitochondrial cytopathy and psychogenic, were the least frequent causes with one patient in each category. The etiology in two patients could not be established. Perinatal cerebral injury and postencephalitic dystonia were seen in the younger age group, while post-stroke and tardive dystonia were seen in the older age group.