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WHSL Medical Subject Headings for PubMed Searching: MeSH Quick Tours from NLM

This guide will assist you to use the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) when you are searching in PubMed

Branching Out: The MeSH Vocabulary

This eleven minute video provides an invaluable oversight of what MeSH is, how it is created, the various MeSH trees, and how to use it to improve your searching (including the use of subheadings).

Searching PubMed with the MeSH Database

 Medical Subject Headings (MeSH®) in MEDLINE®/PubMed®: A Tutorial and How PubMed Works: Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) provides more insight into the use of MeSH in search8ing PubMed. You first prebuild your search strategy in the MeSH database, and then search the PubMed database for citations to articles in the journal literature.

 A subheading is used to narrow a MeSH term to a more specific concept, eg. you can search for the etiology of irritable bowel disease by finding the MeSH term for this condition (irritable bowel syndrome),and then clicking on the term to find a list of subheadings that are applicable to this term. Etiology can then be selected (ticked) from the alphabetical list of subheadings, and the search can be sent to the search builder and searched in PubMed.


MeSH Exercises

Try searching in PubMed for the MeSH heading Irritable Bowel Syndrome AND etiology [subheading] as a MeSH term using the search builder to see if there is a different result from when you search Irritable Bowel Syndrome/etiology, also using the search builder. 

  • If you found a different result in both searches, why do you think this might have happened?
  • Do you think it makes a difference which method you use to search?
    • Why?
    • You will see from an examination of your search results that the first search (Irritable Bowel Syndrome AND etiology [subheading]) does not give as precise a result as the second search  Irritable Bowel Syndrome/etiology. This is because the subheading etiology need not necessarily apply to the MeSH term Irritable Bowel Syndrome, but could apply to any other term indexed for each article. For example, in the article Prevalence of restless legs syndrome in patients with irritable bowel syndrome, by Basu PP, Shah NJ, Krishnaswamy N, & Pacana T. World J Gastroenterol 2011 Oct 21;17(39):4404-7, the subheading etiology is actually applied to the the term Restless Legs Syndrome, not to the term Irritable Bowel Syndrome. (Click on the + sign next to Publication Types, MeSH Terms to see this).
You will learn more about this phenomenon when you need to search in order to produce a systematic review. However, the take away message is that there are many different ways to search PubMed and not all searches produce the same results. You need to think carefully before you design your clinical question in order to search for information.