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MD Research Project Literature Searching Guide

MeSH (Medical Subject Headings)


MeSH (Medical Subject Headings) is a medical thesaurus used by PubMed and Medline to index records. Medical Subject Headings (called descriptors) follow a controlled and standardised vocabulary. Terminology is standardised so all articles on a particular topic are assigned a consistent subject heading. For example, articles about high blood pressure will be indexed under the MeSH descriptor, Hypertension. Most articles have more than one subject heading, e.g.:

Hypertension/ Middle Aged/ Sedentary Lifestyle/ Cross-sectional Studies

MeSH is based on a taxonomy model in which descriptors are arranged in a hierarchical structure. This structure, called the MeSH Tree, descends from the general to the specific.

In this example, Parkinson Disease is the narrowest subject heading in the Nervous System Diseases hierarchy.

Nervous System Diseases

Central Nervous System Diseases

Brain Diseases

Basal Ganglia Diseases

Parkinsonian Disorders

Parkinson Disease

How do I find MeSH descriptors?

The MeSH on Demand app can find keywords for you.

Type a topic into the box and click ‘Find MeSH terms’. For example, 

mild traumatic brain injury

Select Brain Concussion from the results. 

This is the MeSH descriptor record for Brain Concussion. The Scope Note provides a succinct definition of the heading. The Entry Term(s) provide some alternative (synonymous) keywords. These are not MeSH terms, but you can use them in your search as alternative search words.

General note: MeSH uses American spelling, e.g. gynecology, not gynaecology; behavior, not behaviour.  

Learn more about MeSH.