Dr Colin Simpson of the University of Edinburgh and colleagues analysed information from the QResearch data-base, which hold data from more than 2.8 million patients.
The researchers found that between 2001 and 2004, incidence of COPD rose for both men and women.
For women it rose from two cases per 1,000 patient-years to 2.4, while for men it rose from 2.1 to 2.7 cases per 1,000 patient-years.
Incidence then fell in 2005, to 2 cases per 1,000 patient years in women and 2.2 per 1,000 patient years in men.
By 2005, prevalence of COPD stood at 1.7 per cent, but varied across England, with particularly high levels in the north east of the country.
Writing in the British Journal of General Practice, the researchers commented: 'The number of people affected remains high and poses a major challenge for health services, particularly those in the north east and in the most deprived communities in England.
'The very limited decrease in smoking rates among the more deprived groups of patients with COPD is also a cause for concern.'