The Danish study of 8,045 men and women aged 30–60 years, with normal lung function at baseline, showed that, over 25 years, 24 per cent of continuous smokers were diagnosed with COPD at stage two or above, compared with 7.8 per cent of those who never smoked.
Stopping smoking reduced a person’s risk of developing COPD, with none of those who gave up early developing COPD in the study period.
Dr John Haughney, Glasgow GP and president of the International Primary Care Respiratory Group, said: ‘I’m a little bit surprised the figures are quite that high but we’ve always known that there’s a strong link.
‘There’s a huge pool of unrecognised COPD out there. With funding we could screen anyone who wanted to be screened.’
Dr Steve Holmes, a GP in Somerset and chairman of the General Practice Airways Group, said: ‘This number perhaps isn’t surprising when you look at the research, but it certainly demands us to be screening much more opportunistically.’
The British Lung Foundation claims there are 1.5 million undiagnosed COPD cases in the UK.