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MeSH (medical subject headings), are indexing terms are used by the National Library of Medicine, including PubMed / Medline, to organize and make retrieval of citations easier. MeSH enhance searches by making it easier to attain consistent results when searching for articles in a given topic area.  MeSH is the NLM’s Controlled Vocabulary.

How to ‘translate’ your search terms to their MeSH equivalents:

Starting on the PubMed homepage, switch to the MeSH database by selecting it from the pull-down menu near the search box.

Type a search word in the search box, then click Search.You will be taken to a page with search results. These are MeSH terms.

Click on the search result most applicable to your topic. You will be brought to a page listing relevant MeSH terms, including the main subject heading and related subheadings (more specific concepts related to that MeSH term).To the right is a search box. This is the PubMed Search Builder.Choose a MeSH term or one of the subheadings, then click Add to Search Builder to start creating a search query.

When done ‘translating’ all of your search terms into MeSH and adding them to the search builder, click the Search PubMed button to run the search. You will then be brought to a regular PubMed search results page.

Why You Shouldn’t Use Just MeSH:

New articles, including ‘pre-prints’, are often available to view on PubMed for months before bring indexed. This means they may not show up in a search built solely with MeSH terms. If you are searching for very recent articles, or are doing a thorough literature review on a topic, you should combine both MeSH and regular ‘keyword’ search terms together in your search query. You can add regular keywords to the Search Builder after choosing MeSH terms before running a search.

NOTE: When you are running a regular (non-MeSH) search on PubMed, your search words are automatically ‘translated’ by the search engine into their MeSH equivalents (when those are available) as well, and these are added to your search query alongside the search words you already used.