Pregnancy, vascular tone, and maternal hemodynamics: a crucial adaptation

Obstet Gynecol Surv. 2000 Sep;55(9):574-81. doi: 10.1097/00006254-200009000-00023.


The adaptation of vascular tone in early pregnancy precedes and probably triggers blood volume and cardiac output increase. Because the endothelium is known to regulate vascular smooth muscle action, the role of nitric oxide (NO) in the setting up of adequate uteroplacental and renal blood flow during normal pregnancy was investigated. The persistence of abnormally high uteroplacental resistance is a strong predisposing factor for intrauterine growth retardation and preeclampsia and can be screened by second trimester Doppler assessment of the uterine arteries. Current hypotheses suggested by experimental and clinical data concerning preeclampsia confirm the crucial role played by the endothelium and vascular tone adaptation. The analysis of these data leads to consider apart early-onset preeclampsia affecting pregnancies with growth retarded fetuses and associated with high vascular resistance. Lastly, NO donors seem to significantly decrease the impedance in the uteroplacental circulation and to improve fetoplacental hemodynamics assessed by Doppler measurements, and their therapeutic use in some forms of preeclampsia might be promising.

Target audience: Obstetricians & Gynecologists, Family Physicians

Learning objectives: After completion of this article, the reader will be able to summarize the events that regulate vascular tone in pregnancy, specifically the role of nitric oxide and other vasoactive prostaglandins in the regulation of vascular tone and to describe the various hypotheses concerning the mechanism and the mediators responsible for initiating endothelial damage in the various disorders of vascular tone in pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blood Volume
  • Cardiac Output
  • Female
  • Hemodynamics / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Nitric Oxide / pharmacology*
  • Placenta / blood supply
  • Pre-Eclampsia / physiopathology*
  • Pregnancy / physiology*
  • Prostaglandins / pharmacology*
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal
  • Uterus / blood supply
  • Vascular Resistance


  • Prostaglandins
  • Nitric Oxide