Erythrocyte sodium-lithium countertransport activity is increased in a subgroup of patients with essential hypertension but activity also rises temporarily during normal pregnancy. It is not known if the mechanism of raised activity is the same in both of these situations. Standard sodium-lithium countertransport activity and its kinetic characteristics (sodium affinity and maximum velocity) were measured in 15 women with a normal pregnancy. The mechanism of raised sodium-lithium countertransport activity was an increase in maximum velocity. There was no change in sodium affinity. This contrasts with essential hypertension where the mechanism is increased sodium affinity. Sodium-lithium countertransport activity was also measured in 14 primigravidae whose pregnancies were complicated by hypertension, and mean activity was not significantly higher than in normal pregnancy. However, six women had increased sodium affinity suggestive of essential hypertension and a different underlying mechanism of hypertension to those with normal sodium affinity. Prospective measurement of sodium-lithium countertransport kinetics may lead to a better understanding of the pathophysiology of hypertension in pregnancy.