Exacerbations occur commonly in patients with moderate or severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) but factors affecting their severity and frequency or effects on quality of life are unknown. We measured daily peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) and daily respiratory symptoms for 1 yr in 70 COPD patients (52 male, 18 female, mean age [+/- SD] 67.5 +/- 8.3 yr, FEV1 1.06 +/- 0.45 L, FVC 2.48 +/- 0.82 L, FEV1/FVC 44 +/- 15%, FEV1 reversibility 6.7 +/- 9.1%, PaO2 8.8 +/- 1.1 kPa). Quality of life was measured by the St. George's Respiratory Questionnaire (SGRQ). Exacerbations (E) were assessed at acute visit (reported exacerbation) or from diary card data each month (unreported exacerbation). In 61 (87%) patients there were 190 exacerbations (median 3; range, 1 to 8) of which 93 (51%) were reported. There were no differences in major symptoms (increase in dyspnea, sputum volume, or purulence) or physiological parameters between reported and unreported exacerbations. At exacerbation, median peak flow fell by an average of 6.6 L/min (p = 0.0003). Using the median number of exacerbations as the cutoff point, patients were classified as infrequent exacerbators (E = 0 to 2) or frequent exacerbators (E = 3 to 8). The SGRQ Total and component scores were significantly worse in the group that had frequent exacerbations: SGRQ Total score (mean difference = 14.8, p < 0.001), Symptoms (23.1, p < 0.001), Activities (12.2, p = 0.003), Impacts (13.9, p = 0.002). However there was no difference between frequent and infrequent exacerbators in the fall in peak flow at exacerbation. Factors predictive of frequent exacerbations were daily cough (p = 0.018), daily wheeze (p = 0.011), and daily cough and sputum (p = 0.009) and frequent exacerbations in the previous year (p = 0.001). These findings suggest that patient quality of life is related to COPD exacerbation frequency.