Systematic review and meta-analysis in cardiac surgery: a primer

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Purpose of review

The purpose of this article is to review the strengths and weaknesses of systematic reviews and meta-analyses to inform our current understanding of cardiac surgery.

Recent findings

A systematic review and meta-analysis of a focused topic can provide a quantitative estimate for the effect of a treatment intervention or exposure. In cardiac surgery, observational studies and small, single-center prospective trials provide most of the clinical outcomes that form the evidence base for patient management and guideline recommendations. As such, meta-analyses can be particularly valuable in synthesizing the literature for a particular focused surgical question. Since the year 2000, there are over 800 meta-analysis-related publications in our field. There are some limitations to this technique, including clinical, methodological and statistical heterogeneity, among other challenges. Despite these caveats, results of meta-analyses have been useful in forming treatment recommendations or in providing guidance in the design of future clinical trials.


There is a growing number of meta-analyses in the field of cardiac surgery. Knowledge translation via meta-analyses will continue to guide and inform cardiac surgical practice and our practice guidelines.

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