Formerly preeclamptic women stand a higher chance of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) later in life and may experience a shortened life span. This review updates the pathophysiology and definition of this complex disease and highlights the protective role of pregnancy by considering the relationship between pregnancy interval and likelihood of disease recurrence. The evidence for persistent maternal cardiovascular impairment following preeclampsia (PE) is considered, e.g. postpartum changes in CVD occurrence, blood pressure elevation and changes in the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system). Since maternal endothelial dysfunction is a hallmark of PE, we summarize the evidence for reduced flow-mediated dilation in women with previous PE, and consider the utility and shortcomings of this clinical measure. In addition to viewing postpartum changes as a consequence of this disease, we consider the alternative view that PE might be the manifestation of a maternal phenotype that already has some predisposition to or is in the earlier stages of CVD; in this case, some of the postpartum residual deficits (or their antecedents) may have already been present prior to pregnancy. Finally, we consider the use of novel biomarkers for predicting or detecting PE prior to the appearance of clinical symptoms.