When to Use Embase

Embase has over 32 million records, including articles from 7,600 peer-reviewed journal titles. Sixty topic areas are covered, including thirty core clinical and pharmacology topics that represent over 70% of Embase content. The database has more of an international focus than PubMed, and also has greater coverage for pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

Note that this content is for the Embase.com version of the database, not the Ovid version.

Embase Cool Tools

The PV Wizard (PV stands for pharmacovigilance) allows the searcher to create straightforward queries that include trade names, generic names, and synonyms for drugs and pharmaceuticals. Access the PV Wizard from the search toolbar. Enter your desired drug name and follow the prompts for the most comprehensive drug search.

While this search option is not fully comprehensive, it can help a searcher find literature on adverse events, toxicity, interactions, and specify routes of administration.

The Medical Device search is located in the Embase search toolbar. Enter the medical device name, browse and edit synonyms, and follow the prompts to create a comprehensive medical device search.

Controlled Vocabulary: Emtree

  • Similar to MeSH in PubMed, Embase has a controlled vocabulary called Emtree. Terms are arranged hierarchically by subject categories with more specific terms arranged beneath broader terms.
  • Terms include chemical names, trade names, device names and laboratory/research codes mapped to generic names for more than 31,000 drugs and chemicals.
  • Emtree entries include more preferred terms and synonyms than MeSH.
  • Emtree terms allow for more comprehensive explosion than MeSH.

For more information about the differences between MeSH and Emtree, browse this useful whitepaper from Elsevier, “A Comparison of Emtree and MeSH."

Explode, No Explode, and Major Focus

  • Explode will search with all subject headings below the main heading included and bring up all results listing any of these terms subject heading subheadings combinations. Command to search:/exp
  • No explode retrieves only the term specified and no headings below it. For example: ‘botany’/de only finds records indexed with botany, and not ethnobotany, forensic botany, or palynology. Command to search: /de
  • As major focus will only search for your chosen Emtree term as a main term. Main terms are chosen by Emtree indexers to be the primary focus of an individual article. Command to search: /mj

Detailed information about Emtree vocabulary is available at Elsevier’s support hub.


Automatic Term Mapping

Using Keywords

  • Keywords are any terms you would use in practice, as well as synonyms, variations in spelling, antonyms, initalisms, and acronyms.
  • Keywords can be single words or phrases.
  • Use quotes around all phrases to ensure that the phrase is searched together.
  • For more ideas, visit the MeSH database and look at the entry terms listed in the MeSH record.
  • Also consider using synonyms, acroynyms, initialisms, variations in spelling, and other closely-related terms used interchangeably to describe the topic.

Keyword Generation

Keywords can be generated by:

  • browsing entry terms in PubMed’s MeSH, and synonyms in Embase’s Emtree to add additional keywords to a concept;
  • looking at a few key articles and seeing how the terminology is used; and by
  • doing a few preliminary searches and browsing the results to see how the terminology is used.

Additional Pro Tips


  • On the left side of the results are options to filter your search by Sources, Drugs, Diseases, Devices, etc. under the header “Results Filters.” Click the arrow next to each filter to see the available options.
  • Warning: filters such as species, ages, text availability, and subject discipline may unnecessarily exclude articles you want to see. When you apply these filters, you are using controlled vocabulary or database indexing to exclude articles. This is not always a reliable method of excluding articles.

Proximity Searching

  • Embase allows for proximity operators to search for terms within a certain number of words from each other. There are two types of proximity searching: NEAR/n and NEXT/n
  • NEAR/n searches for terms within the specified number of words from each other, in either direction. (therapy NEAR/5 sleep) looks for the word therapy within 5 words of sleep.
  • NEXT/n searches for terms within the specified number of words from each other, in the order the words are typed. For example, therapy NEXT/5 sleep would find “therapy for improved sleep,” but it would not find “sleep therapy.

Phrase Searching

Surround phrases with single quotes to search as a phrase. This will allow for a more precise search.


  • In Embase you can use a * at the root of a word to find multiple endings. For example:
    • arthroplast* will return arthroplasty, arthroplasties, arthroplastic, arthroplastics, etc.
    • mobili* will return mobility, mobilization, mobilisation, mobilize, etc.
  • You can also use a ? as a wildcard to search for letter variants within a word (e.g. wom?n finds women and woman)
  • In Embase you can use truncation and phrase searching at the same time. e.g. “early childhood mobili*”
  • You can use truncation and quotation marks at the same time. For example, the search “sleep therap*” will return “sleep therapy” and sleep therapies”

Field Tags or Field Descriptors

To locate field limits (such as title, abstract), go to the “Advanced Search” page and click on the link for “fields” located in small print beneath the search box. Default is “all fields,” but by entering a search term and then clicking on one of these limits (for example, clicking “Abstract :ab”) will add it to the search builder.

The Embase field tags that most closely resemble [tw] in PubMed are: abstract, title, keyword. For example: ‘vaccine’:ti,ab,kw will search the title, abstract, and keywords To search Title/abstract only use “:ab,ti.” For example: ‘vaccine’:ab,ti . This tag can also involve multiple search terms. For example: (opioid* OR narcotic*):ti,ab Other commands include:

  • ‘term’:ti (Title)
  • ‘term’:ab (Abstract)
  • ‘Smith A’:au (Author)
  • ‘term’:ad (Author Address/Affiliation)
  • ‘term’:jt (Journal Title)

A comprehensive list of field tags, including those for drugs and devices, can be found at Elsevier’s support hub.