Using MeSH headings in health searches

By Jun.19, 2014


MeSH stands for Medical Subject Headings. These headings were developed by the National Library of Medicine and are a list of key terms and phrases known as a ‘controlled vocabulary’. Databases such as Medline and the Cochrane Library allow the use of MeSH as a search tool.

The basic principle behind MeSH is that it defines the key words / phrases within medicine in a structured way.


mesh eg




These headings are organised into ‘trees’ – starting with big general terms, branching off into smaller more specific ones.




MeSH uses synonyms and related terms to link you to the most appropriate heading. By entering your keyword you may find terms you had not considered or were not even aware of. Each article indexed by Medline is assigned up to 20 headings by independent indexers.


You can access MeSH headings when searching the Medline database. Other databases make use of similar systems – CINAHL has a Subject Headings option which is very similar to MeSH.

If you would like to know more then why not view our more detailed presentation about MeSH headings

To get help and support using MeSH headings as part of your search in health and social care contact your subject librarian.


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