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PubMed is a free interface for searching MEDLINE, the most popular bibliographic database in the health and medical sciences. It contains references to millions of journal articles from biomedical journals and is updated daily.

Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) in MEDLINE/PubMed: A Tutorial

How PubMed Works: Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) (39:25)

(Created on June 17, 2020):

MeSH explained

Records in PubMed have been assigned subject headings, a controlled vocabulary called Medical Subject Headings or MeSH for short. These are used to index articles allowing you to retrieve all records on a particular subject regardless of the terminology used by the author. For example, a search for the subject heading Myocardial Infarction will retrieve records that include terms such as heart attack, acute myocardial injury and myocardial infarction including any variant spellings and plurals. Narrower, more specific MeSH terms will also be searched for such as ST Elevation Myocardial Infarction

A simple PubMed search automatically searches for MeSH terms. However, you can also carry out your own searches using the MeSH database if you wish.

link to MeSH databaseSearching MeSH

In order to have more control over your search strategy you can search for MeSH terms directly in the MeSH database and use the Advanced Search to combine your searches.

Access the MeSH database from the PubMed homepage. Please note that the MeSH database has not been updated to match the technology used in the new PubMed so your searching experience will look quite different when you move between the two interfaces.

  • Type your search concept into the search box to check for relevant MeSH terms

searching mesh

  • Click Search. You may get more than one term to choose from. Click on the option that best suits your needs. More than one MeSH term may be relevant.
  • If you wish, you can choose to select one or more subheadings, to add a focus to your search e.g. diagnosis. When you have chosen, click Add to search builder, then Search PubMed. This retrieves all records indexed using your chosen MeSH term.

search builder box

  • Do this for each of your concepts.
  • For a comprehensive search, or if there is no MeSH term that exactly matches your needs, you will need to also incorporate textword searching into your strategy (searching titles/abstracts). When identifying your search terms, think of things like variant spellings, acronyms, alternative terms etc., and combine them using OR in the advanced search mode
  • MeSH is organized in a hierarchical tree like structure. MeSH terms further down the hierarchy will be automatically included in your search.