Patients with an acute infective exacerbation of chronic bronchitis (AECB) (n = 471) were enrolled into a computer-based general-practice study to determine whether features of past history, presenting symptoms, or findings on examination were predictive of failure to recover. The median age was 68, 56.3% were male, and 82% were current or ex-smokers. All had daily sputum production and 57.5% had moderate or severe airflow obstruction. During the AECB 11.5% were pyrexial, and 80.7% had abnormal auscultatory findings; about half had moderate to severe increases in dyspnoea and airflow obstruction, and the majority had increases in sputum volume and/or purulence. The median number of AECBs in the previous year was three, and one-third of patients had cardiopulmonary disease. The only factors significantly (p < 0.05) predicting failure to recover from an AECB were historical. Neither clinical features at presentation nor antibiotic treatment affected recovery. Coexistent cardiopulmonary disease was a risk factor for returning with a chest problem and for being referred to hospital. The number of chest infections in the previous 12 months was a risk factor for returning with a chest problem. The higher the number of chest infections, the higher the odds of returning with a chest problem. The best combination predicting return with a chest problem was history of cardiopulmonary disease and more than four previous AECBs in the last 12 months. The sensitivity was 75% and specificity 47%.