Objective: to describe the main potentially life threatening conditions of women hospitalized in a maternal intensive care unit and their association with sociodemographic and obstetric variables. Methods: a cross-sectional epidemiological study was carried out with 560 women admitted to an Intensive Care Unit. Results: the most prevalent conditions were: use of blood products and severe preeclampsia/eclampsia. There was a statistical association between women from the metropolitan region, in the age group of 20 to 34 years and who had previously given birth. Mothers who had a potentially life threatening condition presented a higher chance of having a child with Apgar <7 in the fifth minute and weigh of less than 1,500g. Conclusion: the use of blood products prevailed, followed by severe preeclampsia and eclampsia. A strong relation was identified between the origin, parity and potentially life threatening conditions, as well as between these and negative perinatal outcomes.