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Acute exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (AECOPD) are crucial events but causes remain poorly defined. A method to clinically ‘phenotype’ AECOPD have been proposed, and 52 hospitalized chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbations according to underlying aetiology have now been prospectively phenotyped. Multiple exacerbation phenotypes were identified. A subpopulation coinfected with virus and bacteria had a significantly longer length of hospital stay, and this pilot study indicates that exacerbation phenotyping may be advantageous.