The natural history of cranial dural arteriovenous malformations (AVM's) is highly variable. The authors present their clinical experience with 17 dural AVM's in adults, including 10 cases with an aggressive neurological course (strictly defined as hemorrhage or progressive focal neurological deficit other than ophthalmoplegia). Two of these 10 patients died prior to surgical intervention and a third was severely disabled by intracerebral hemorrhage. Six patients underwent surgical resection of their dural AVM, with preparatory embolization in two cases. One patient received embolization and radiation therapy without surgery. Six of the seven cases without an aggressive neurological course were treated conservatively, and the seventh patient underwent embolization of a cavernous sinus dural AVM because of worsening ophthalmoplegia. In order to clarify features associated with aggressive behavior, a comprehensive meta-analysis was performed on 360 additional dural AVM's reported in the literature with sufficiently detailed clinical and angiographic information. The location and angiographic features of 100 aggressive cases were compared to those of 277 benign cases. No location of dural AVM's was immune from aggressive neurological behavior; however, an aggressive neurological course was least often associated with cases involving the transverse-sigmoid sinuses and cavernous sinus and most often associated with cases at the tentorial incisura. Contralateral contribution to arterial supply and rate of shunting (high vs. low flow) did not correlate with aggressive neurological behavior as defined. Leptomeningeal venous drainage, variceal or aneurysmal venous dilations, and galenic drainage correlated significantly (p less than 0.05) with aggressive neurological presentation. The latter three angiographic features often coexisted in the same dural AVM. It is concluded that these features significantly increase the natural risk of dural AVM's, and warrant a more vigilant therapeutic strategy.