Exacerbations are an important cause of morbidity and mortality in COPD. We assessed treatment initiation and health care use at exacerbation in patients receiving a self-management education program including an action plan. COPD patients were randomly assigned to usual care or to a comprehensive self-management program "Living Well with COPD" including a written action plan and case manager support, and were followed-up for 12 months. Patients in the usual care were managed by their respective practitioners. Patients in the self-management program received, as part of a written action plan, a prescription of antibiotics and prednisone for self-initiation in case of aggravation of 2 or more symptoms (dyspnea, sputum volume, sputum purulence) for at least 24 hours, and they had the support of a case-manager for reinforcement and monthly telephone follow-ups. At 12 months, 166 patients presented with at least one exacerbation. Exacerbations (606) were confirmed by aggravation of at least one symptom; 403 (67.6%) presented 2 or more. Antibiotics were used in 61.6% of exacerbations and prednisone in 47.9%. In exacerbations presenting aggravation of 2 or more symptoms, antibiotics and prednisone were used together more often in the action plan than in the usual care group (54.4% vs. 34.8%, p < 0.001). In the action plan, compared to the usual care group, 17.2% vs. 36.3% exacerbations resulted in a hospitalization (p < 0.001). Self-management with the successful use of an action plan for acute exacerbation of COPD holds promise for reducing health care use.