Background: Despite inhaled medications that decrease exacerbation risk, some COPD patients experience frequent exacerbations. We determined prospective risk factors for exacerbations among subjects in the COPDGene Study taking inhaled medications. Methods: 2113 COPD subjects were categorized into four medication use patterns: triple therapy with tiotropium (TIO) plus long-acting beta-agonist/inhaled-corticosteroid (ICS ± LABA), tiotropium alone, ICS ± LABA, and short-acting bronchodilators. Self-reported exacerbations were recorded in telephone and web-based longitudinal follow-up surveys. Associations with exacerbations were determined within each medication group using four separate logistic regression models. A head-to-head analysis compared exacerbation risk among subjects using tiotropium vs. ICS ± LABA. Results: In separate logistic regression models, the presence of gastroesophageal reflux, female gender, and higher scores on the St. George's Respiratory Questionnaire were significant predictors of exacerbator status within multiple medication groups (reflux: OR 1.62-2.75; female gender: OR 1.53 - OR 1.90; SGRQ: OR 1.02-1.03). Subjects taking either ICS ± LABA or tiotropium had similar baseline characteristics, allowing comparison between these two groups. In the head-to-head comparison, tiotropium users showed a trend towards lower rates of exacerbations (OR = 0.69 [95 % CI 0.45, 1.06], p = 0.09) compared with ICS ± LABA users, especially in subjects without comorbid asthma (OR = 0.56 [95 % CI 0.31, 1.00], p = 0.05). Conclusions: Each common COPD medication usage group showed unique risk factor patterns associated with increased risk of exacerbations, which may help clinicians identify subjects at risk. Compared to similar subjects using ICS ± LABA, those taking tiotropium showed a trend towards reduced exacerbation risk, especially in subjects without asthma. Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00608764 , first received 1/28/2008.