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Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2009 Jun;119(6):443-50. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0447.2009.01388.x.

How to read and understand and use systematic reviews and meta-analyses.

Author information

  • 1Klinik and Poliklinik für Psychiatrie and Psychotherapie, Technische Universität München, München, Germany.



Systematic reviews and meta-analyses are increasingly frequently used in the evaluation of medical treatments. This review explains the principles of the methodology, significance and limitations of systematic reviews.


Short review article.


In contrast to conventional reviews, systematic reviews use a structured approach in retrieving, analyzing and interpreting the evidence. A comprehensive search strategy is applied to identify all relevant trials. Study selection and data extraction is performed independently by at least two reviewers. The data are usually synthesized in a meta-analysis applying statistical methods to examine homogeneity. Funnel plots and other statistical methods are applied to detect publication bias.


Due to the enormous amount of scientific information published every year, systematic reviews and meta-analyses have become indispensable methods for the evaluation of medical treatments.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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