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Understanding of the maternal syndrome of pre-eclampsia has greatly improved over the past 5 years. Specifically, the notion has emerged that the placenta is a source of antiangiogenic factors, such as soluble fms-like tyrosine kinase 1, that can progressively impair the mother's vascular and glomerular function throughout pregnancy. This impairment can be harmless during normal pregnancy, but in cases of defective placentation, concentrations of antiangiogenic factors increase to a level that compromises vital vascular functions in the short term and jeopardizes long-term maternal and fetal outcomes. In both pre-eclamptic and healthy pregnancies, the transient imbalance between angiogenic and antiangiogenic factors elicited by pregnancy acts as a 'stress test' for the endothelium, particularly in the glomerular capillary bed. Women who do not pass this test (i.e. those who develop pre-eclampsia or gestational hypertension) should be screened for glomerular disease, and their cardiovascular risk should be carefully monitored throughout life.