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Acute exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (AECOPDs) are important adverse events in the natural history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).To investigate the natural history of AECOPDs over 10 years of follow-up.We identified 99,574 patients with COPD from January 1, 2004, to March 31, 2015, from the UK Clinical Practice Research Datalink. We defined moderate AECOPDs as those managed outside hospital and severe as those requiring hospitalization. During the baseline period (first year of follow-up), patients were grouped according to the number and severity of AECOPDs and then followed for a maximum of 10 years (mean, 4.9 yr). We investigated the effect of baseline AECOPD number and severity on risk of further events and death.Around one-quarter of the patients with COPD did not exacerbate during follow-up. Compared with no AECOPDs in the baseline period, AECOPD number predicted the future long-term rate of AECOPDs in a graduated fashion, ranging from hazard ratio (HR) of 1.71 (1.66-1.77) for one event to HR of 3.41 (3.27-3.56) for five or more events. Two or more moderate AECOPDs were also associated with an increased risk of death in a graduated fashion, ranging from HR of 1.10 (1.03-1.18) for two moderate AECOPDs to HR of 1.57 (1.45-1.70) for five or more moderate AECOPDs, compared with those with no AECOPDs at baseline. Severe AECOPDs were associated with an even higher risk of death (HR, 1.79; 1.65-1.94).A large proportion of patients with COPD do not exacerbate over a maximum 10 years of follow-up. AECOPD frequency in a single year predicts long-term AECOPD rate. Increasing frequency and severity of AECOPDs is associated with risk of death and highlights the importance of preventing AECOPDs.