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During cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB), hypoperfusion and reperfusion may cause oxidative stress and lipid per-oxidation that generates ethane. The aim of this pilot study was to assess the feasibility of frequent sampling of exhaled ethane during cardiac surgery. After approval of the Research Ethics Committee, 10 patients undergoing combined aortic valve and coronary artery bypass surgery were enrolled. Breath samples were drawn in the perioperative period and analyzed by a rapid, sensitive and validated gas-chromatographic method. Increased exhaled ethane was regularly seen following sternotomy, after the start of CPB and after aortic clamp removal, whereas no change was seen after termination of bypass. In one patient, the maximum increase in exhaled ethane was 30-fold. Peak durations lasted only 2–4 min. This study demonstrates that frequent sampling of breath ethane is feasible in a clinical setting, allowing detection of rapid ethane surges of short duration.