Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is an effective therapy for patients with severe respiratory distress syndromes. However, an inflammatory response has been observed with the use of this therapy. We measured complement activation in vivo in two adults receiving ECMO for acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Production of complement activation fragments C4d, Bb, iC3b, and SC5b-9 was determined using commercial ELISA kits. In both patients there was intense activation of complement that peaked 1 hour (mean SC5b-9 increase to 1135% of baseline) after the start of ECMO and occurred predominantly via the alternative pathway (Bb production). Early and acute complement activation may be responsible for the initiation of the inflammatory response that has been observed in patients treated with ECMO.