Cardiovascular disease continues to be the leading cause of global morbidity and mortality. Traditional risk factors account for only part of the attributable risk. The origins of atherosclerosis are in early life, a potential albeit largely unrecognized window of opportunity for early detection and treatment of subclinical cardiovascular disease. There are robust epidemiological data indicating that poor intrauterine growth and/or prematurity, and perinatal factors such as maternal hypercholesterolaemia, smoking, diabetes and obesity, are associated with adverse cardiovascular intermediate phenotypes in childhood and adulthood. Many of these early-life risk factors result in a heightened inflammatory state. Inflammation is a central mechanism in the development of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease, but few studies have investigated the role of overt perinatal infection and inflammation (chorioamnionitis) as a potential contributor to cardiovascular risk. Limited evidence from human and experimental models suggests an association between chorioamnionitis and cardiac and vascular dysfunction. Early life inflammatory events may be an important mechanism in the early development of cardiovascular risk and may provide insights into the associations between perinatal factors and adult cardiovascular disease. This review aims to summarise current data on the early life origins of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease, with particular focus on perinatal inflammation.

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