Abstract Background Systematic reviews (SRs) are useful tools in synthesising the available evidence, but high numbers of overlapping SRs are also discussed in the context of research waste. Although it is often claimed that the number of SRs being published is increasing steadily, there are no precise data on that. We aimed to assess trends in the epidemiology and reporting of published SRs over the last 20 years. Methods A retrospective observational study was conducted to identify potentially eligible SRs indexed in PubMed from 2000 to 2019. From all 572,871 records retrieved, we drew a simple random sample of 4,000. The PRISMA-P definition of SRs was applied to full texts and only SRs published in English were included. Characteristics were extracted by one reviewer, with a 20% sample verified by a second person. Results A total of 1,132 SRs published in 710 different journals were included. The estimated number of SRs indexed in 2000 was 1,432 (95% CI: 547-2,317), 5,013 (95% CI: 3,375-6,650) in 2010 and 29,073 (95% CI: 25,445-32,702) in 2019. Transparent reporting of key items increased over the years. About 7 out of 10 named their article a SR (2000-2004: 41.9% and 2015-2019: 74.4%). In 2000-2004, 32.3% of SRs were based in the UK (0% in China), in 2015-2019 24.0% were from China and 10.8% from the UK. Nearly all articles from China (94.9%) conducted a meta-analysis (overall: 58.9%). Cochrane reviews (n=84; 7.4%) less often imposed language restrictions, but often did not report the number of records and full texts screened and did not name their article a SR (22.6% vs. 73.4%). Conclusions We observed a more than 20-fold increase in the number of SRs indexed over the last 20 years. In 2019, this is equivalent to 80 SRs per day. Over time, SRs got more diverse in respect to journals, type of review, and country of corresponding authors. The high proportion of meta-analyses from China needs further investigation. Study registration Open Science Framework (https://osf.io/pxjrv/).