At six centers, 203 patients with hypoxemic chronic obstructive lung disease were randomly allocated to either continuous oxygen (O2) therapy or 12-hour nocturnal O2 therapy and followed for at least 12 months (mean, 19.3 months). The two groups were initially well matched in terms of physiological and neuropsychological function. Compliance with each oxygen regimen was good. Overall mortality in the nocturnal O2 therapy group was 1.94 times that in the continuous O2 therapy group (P = 0.01). This trend was striking in patients with carbon dioxide retention and also present in patients with relatively poor lung function, low mean nocturnal oxygen saturation, more severe brain dysfunction, and prominent mood disturbances. Continuous O2 therapy also appeared to benefit patients with low mean pulmonary artery pressure and pulmonary vascular resistance and those with relatively well-preserved exercise capacity. We conclude that in hypoxemic chronic obstructive lung disease, continuous O2 therapy is associated with a lower mortality than is nocturnal O2 therapy. The reason for this difference is not clear.