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PubMed: MeSH search

What is a MeSH Search?

  • You can search PubMed by using Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), also known as MESH terms.  
  • PubMed employs experts who read each article and decide which MESH terms best describe its content.  The experts then add these terms to the article's PubMed record. The terms are taken from a reputable thesaurus and are applied on a consistent basis so that all articles on the same topic have the same terms applied. 
  • MESH searches lessen the need for you to enter alternative search terms for the same concept e.g. you only need to search for avian influenza in order to also find bird flu.  
  • MeSH searches often help researchers find a more refined and targeted set of results that those retrieved through a standard keyword search.
  • Unlike a keyword search, a MeSH search lessens the need for you to enter multiple alternative terms that describe the same concept.  You may find it helpful to try both keyword and MeSH-only approaches to searching in PubMed.

How to do a MESH search

Try this example yourself: a search for articles on the rehabilitation of the achilles tendon:

  1. Click the Advanced link just below the search box on PubMed's 'homepage' to take you to the advanced search page. 
  2. To the left of the search box, you will see the setting, 'all fields'. Change this setting to MESH Terms. (if this generates too many search results later on, try instead selecting the setting, MESH Major Topic).   

    PubMed MESH Search.

  3. Enter the words achilles tendon and click Search. With MeSH searches, you enter only one search term at a time and don't use asterisks. You can click 'Show Index' to find out if the term is represented in the thesaurus and whether there are any narrower terms that you prefer to select instead. 

    For inspiration, you could also search PubMed for a reputable article on the topic that you already know and then check its PubMed record to see which MeSH terms might have been included.
  4. Click the arrow in the ADD button, and then select the Add with AND option. If your search term has been found as  a MESH term, it will then display as a MeSH term in the 'query box' (just below the search box).  

  5. Search for the word rehabilitation and click 'Add with AND'. Both MESH terms should now appear in the query box.

  6. Click Search PubMed to get search results that include both of these MESH terms.  If this retrieves too many irrelevant search results, you could re-run the above steps but this time, change the 'all fields' search setting to 'MESH Major Topic'. This will instruct PubMed to only return results where both MESH terms are core aspects of the content.

  7. Sub-headings: you can change the MeSH Term setting to MeSH Sub-headings if you want a specific aspect to appear in each result in relation to the main themes.  Sub-headings include adverse effects, diagnosis, drug therapy, epidemiology, prevention and control and many others.  You can view a list of all the sub-headings by clicking 'show index' (after changing the search setting to MeSH Sub-headings).