BACKGROUND: In asthma, self-management programmes have been proven to be effective. In COPD, their value is not clear. OBJECTIVES: To assess the efficacy of COPD self-management/ education programmes on health outcomes and use of health services SEARCH STRATEGY: We searched the Cochrane Airways Group trial registers, MEDLINE (January 1985 to October 2001), reference lists, and abstracts of medical conferences. We also contacted research groups in the field for ongoing trials and unpublished material. SELECTION CRITERIA: Controlled trials (randomised and non-randomised) of self-management education in patients with COPD. Studies focusing mainly on physical pulmonary rehabilitation were excluded. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two reviewers independently assessed trial quality and extracted data. Investigators were contacted for additional information. MAIN RESULTS: The reviewers included 12 articles describing 8 randomised-controlled trials and 1 controlled clinical trial. Self-management education was compared with usual care in 8 studies. The studies in this review assessed a broad-spectrum of outcome measures with different follow-up times. Synthesis of the results using meta-analysis was always not possible. The studies showed no effect of self-management education on hospital admissions, emergency room visits, days lost from work and lung function. Inconclusive results were observed on health-related quality of life (HRQoL): studies using the disease specific SGRQ showed a better quality of life in the patients in the intervention group, but only in the activity component where there was heterogeneity between the results of the two included studies. A potential reason for the absence of convincing effects on HRQoL is the limited use of COPD-specific instruments. Inconclusive results were observed on COPD-symptoms and use of other health care resources such as doctor and nurse visits. Self-management education reduced the need for rescue medication, and led to an increased use of courses of oral steroids and antibiotics for respiratory symptoms. REVIEWER'S CONCLUSIONS: The data available for this review are insufficient for forming recommendations. Further research on the effectiveness of self-management programmes should be focussed on behavioural change evaluated in well designed randomised controlled trials with standardised outcomes designed for use in COPD patients, and with long follow-up time so that definite conclusions can be made.