To determine if a regimen of intravenous and oral corticosteroids reduces the relapse rate after treatment of decompensated COPD in the ED, 30 patients were studied. Forty-five visits in which intravenous and oral corticosteroids were given (T visits) were compared with an equal number of matched visits in which they were withheld (N visits). No differences were noted between T and N visits with respect to clinical findings, laboratory results and other forms of therapy. Treatment with corticosteroids reduced the relapse rate within 24 h of discharge. At 48 h, the cumulative relapse rate for T visits (8.9 percent) was significantly lower than for N visits (33.3 percent; p = 0.005). For patients with a history of multiple relapses, a regimen consisting of intravenous and oral corticosteroids reduces the risk of relapse after ED treatment of decompensated COPD.