The biggest-ever survey among chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients has revealed the enormous detrimental impact COPD has on patients' quality of life and the significant burden the disease places on healthcare services.

COPD, a term describing respiratory disorders including emphysema and chronic bronchitis, is the fifth biggest killer in the UK. The disease costs the NHS£500m a year, of which£218m is spent on hospital admissions.

The British Lung Foundation survey, based on 2,500 replies, found that three-quarters of respondents were unable to climb stairs due to breathlessness and 31 per cent woke every night. Over a third had to stop for a breath after walking 100 yards or were too breathless to leave the house.

More than three-quarters visited their GP and a third visited their hospital doctor at least every three to six months.

Dr Mike Morgan, consultant physician at Leicester's Glenfield Hospital, said: 'GPs need to be more alert to patients presenting with breathlessness so their COPD is identified early and thus the risk of exacerbations and hospitalisation can be reduced.'