The number of medical studies being published is increasing exponentially, and clinicians must routinely process large amounts of new information. Moreover, the results of individual studies are often insufficient to provide confident answers, as their results are not consistently reproducible. A meta-analysis is a statistical method for combining the results of different studies on the same topic and it may resolve conflicts among studies. Meta-analysis is being used increasingly and plays an important role in medical research. This review introduces the basic concepts, steps, advantages, and caveats of meta-analysis, to help clinicians understand it in clinical practice and research. A major advantage of a meta-analysis is that it produces a precise estimate of the effect size, with considerably increased statistical power, which is important when the power of the primary study is limited because of a small sample size. A meta-analysis may yield conclusive results when individual studies are inconclusive. Furthermore, meta-analyses investigate the source of variation and different effects among subgroups. In summary, a meta-analysis is an objective, quantitative method that provides less biased estimates on a specific topic. Understanding how to conduct a meta-analysis aids clinicians in the process of making clinical decisions.
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