A Review of Embase
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Alysha Sapp, MLIS
Nursing & Nurse Anesthesia Librarian
Mary Couts Burnett Library
Texas Christian University


Embase (Excerpta Medica dataBASE), often referred to as the European MEDLINE, is a purely indexing database. As described on the Embase website, it is a biomedical and pharmacological database with over 30 million abstracts and indices from published, peer-reviewed biomedical literature, in-press publications, and conferences. Full-text indexing of drug, disease, and medical device data is supported by the Embase thesaurus Emtree, which facilitates precise searching. Embase provides over 30 million records from more than 8,500 currently published journals. This includes some six million records and more than 2,700 journals that are not covered by MEDLINE. Embase Classic provides access to data going back to 1947.

The full list of journal titles covered in Embase can be found here: https://www.elsevier.com/__data/assets/excel_doc/0018/92106/Embase-journals-titles-2015.xlsx

Emtree, often compared to MEDLINE/PubMed’s MeSH, is Elsevier’s life science thesaurus. It is a hierarchically structured, controlled vocabulary for biomedicine and related life sciences. This short paper highlights the differences/similarities between MeSH and Emtree: http://supportcontent.elsevier.com/Support%20Hub/Embase/Files%20&%20Attachements/4685-Embase_White%20Paper_Comparison%20of%20Emtree%20and%20MeSH_July%202015.pdf

What does Emtree contain?

  • Over 72,000 preferred terms (more than 31,000 for drugs and chemicals)
  • Over 300,000 synonyms (more than 190,000 for drugs and chemicals)
  • Over 3,000 specific terms for general and medical devices (e.g., endoscopes, catheters, prostheses)
  • Several thousand terms for related medical procedures (e.g., endoscopy, catheterization)
  • 64 drug subheadings, including 47 routes of administration
  • 4 medical device subheadings
  • 14 disease subheadings
  • 38 check tags for study types, including randomized controlled trial, systematic review, and diagnostic test accuracy study
  • Links to over 23,000 CAS registry numbers

Embase be accessed through either Elsevier or Ovid. Our library uses the Elsevier platform.

Embase features include all of MEDLINE in addition to over 2,700 journals that MEDLINE does not cover and 2,600 conference abstracts.

Embase, on the Elsevier platform, has very similar search options to MEDLINE/PubMed, such as quick or advanced search. It also offers individual searches on drugs, diseases, devices, and articles. The browse option includes Emtree, journal, or article searching.


  • Quick search: When running a quick search (or any type of search), an autocomplete feature suggests the term to use from Emtree. When a user clicks on the suggested Emtree term, the database will search using that term and include the single quotation marks to ensure a more precise search.
  • Advanced Search: The autocomplete feature continues to be in use for this search feature. There are other familiar/similar limiters available on this feature like date, quick limits (humans, animals, abstract, etc.), EBM, Publication types, Languages, Gender, Age, and Animal. There are also a few unique limiters like Mapping (map to preferred term in Emtree, explode using narrower Emtree terms, search as broadly as possible and limit to terms indexed in article as ‘major focus’) or Sources (choose to search in Embase, Medline or Embase Classic, or any combination of the three), fields (find the field labels, such as Article title: ti). Search tips are also offered up for the user, such as Boolean operators, Proximity operators, Field codes, Phrase search, and truncation/wildcards.
  • Drug Search: The Drug search is very similar to the Advanced Search, with 3 added limiter categories: Drug fields, Drug subheadings and Routes of drug administration.
  • Disease Search: The Disease search is very similar to the Advanced Search, with 1 added limiter category: Disease Subheadings.
  • Device fields: The Device search is very similar to the Advanced search with 2 added limiter categories: Device fields & Device subheadings.
  • Article search: Search using any part of an article citation


  • Browse Emtree: When searching Emtree, unlike the quick or advanced search, you do not have an autocomplete option; instead you are given a list of possible medical terms that might fit your criteria. With Emtree you are also given an Emtree tree, the Explode or the Major Focus features, the history of the term, synonyms, and the Dorland’s dictionary definition.
  • Browse Journals: Search through the individual journals indexed in EMBASE.
  • Find Author: Search for Authors, last name, first


When our Center of Evidence Based Practice and Research pursued becoming a Joanna Briggs Center, the TCU library purchased Embase in support of the center and the research that is conducted (more information on JBI can be found here: http://joannabriggs.org/). Embase has become an essential tool in searching for resources, worldwide, for systematic reviews conducted through our center. Any university, hospital, or individual undertaking a systematic review should consider Embase an essential resource for their review. The systematic searching, the specialized limiters, and the conference abstracts (grey literature) are essential to conducting a rigorous review. This database has also become a nursing faculty and graduate student favorite for searching at TCU.

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