As chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is one of the major causes of worldwide mortality, it is important to prevent, diagnose and manage it. COPD creates a huge burden on the NHS and has a significant impact on patients. This is a problem with the increase in morbidity and mortality rates. In primary care there is a lack of knowledge, under-use of quality-assured spirometry and under-diagnosis in about half of all cases. To be able to effectively diagnose, assess and manage COPD, health professionals must understand the physiology and aetiology of the disease. COPD is similar to asthma in its presentation and physiology but management of the condition can differ. The authors therefore looked at the similarities between the two conditions and what tests one can use to make a diagnosis of COPD.