Rationale Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) exacerbations are a leading cause of hospitalization. Suboptimal inhospital management is expected to lead to more frequent exacerbations and recurrent hospital admission, and is associated with increased mortality. Aims To explore inhospital management of COPD and to compare the results with recommendations from international guidelines. Methods A literature search was carried out for relevant articles published 2000-2009 in the databases Medline, Cochrane Library, Cumulative Index for Nursing and Allied Health Literature and Invert. In addition, the reference lists of the selected articles were examined. Main inclusion criteria were as follows: COPD, exacerbation, hospitalization, description of inpatient management, and clinical trials. Assessment and treatment strategies in different studies were analysed and compared with American Thoracic Society-European Respiratory Society and Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease guidelines. Outcomes were analysed. Results Seven eligible studies were selected. Non-pharmacological treatment was infrequently explored. When compared with international guidelines, diagnostic assessment and therapy were suboptimal, especially non-pharmacological treatment. Respiratory physicians were more likely to perform recommended interventions than non-respiratory physicians. Conclusions Adherence to international guidelines is low for inhospital management of COPD exacerbations, especially in terms of non-pharmacological treatment. Further investigation is recommended to explore strategies like care pathways that improve performance of recommended interventions.