Skip to Main Content

PubMed: Searching MeSH

Searching the MeSH Database

MeSH is updated annually and is searchable on its own. Search one concept at a time to see entries to relevant MeSH terms.

Gif showing a search for "heart attack" in the MeSH database

The MeSH Database, available from PubMed's home page, allows you to:

  • locate and select MeSH terms for use in PubMed searches
  • view the definition & scope of a MeSH term
  • see the relationships among MeSH terms 
  • select MeSH subheadings to build a focused PubMed search

Anatomy of a MeSH Record

Each MeSH term has an entry in the MeSH database. For example, take a look at the entry for the MeSH term Myocardial Infarction.

Screenshot pointing out different sections of a MeSH entry

Note: the MeSH term hierachy allows a search of a broader term to include the narrower terms in all branches automatically. This is known as "exploding."

For example, a search for "Myocardial Infarction"[Mesh] would automatically explode to include citations indexed with "Myocardial Infarction"[Mesh] as well as the narrower terms "Anterior Wall Myocardial Infarction"[Mesh], "Inferior Wall Myocardial Infarction"[Mesh], "Non-ST Elevated Myocardial Infarction"[Mesh], "Shock, Cardiogenic"[Mesh], and "ST Elevation Myocardial Infarction"[Mesh].

Using the MeSH Database

Use the MeSH database to find MeSH terms, including Subheadings, Publication Types, Supplementary Concepts and Pharmacological Actions, and then build a PubMed search.


Step 1: Locate and Select MeSH terms from the MeSH Database

An easy way to access the MeSH Database is by using the link on the PubMed home page, under Explore.

Screenshot pointing out MeSH database link on the PubMed homepage

Search for one concept at a time. Your results will be a list of MeSH terms, with brief definitions. The results are displayed in a summary display format in relevance-ranked order. Click on the one that looks most accurate to display the MeSH Full Record. (Note: If only one match is found, the Full Record will be displayed automatically.)

Screenshot showing search for "myocardial infarction" in the MeSH database, pointing to the most relevant MeSH term in the results, "Myocardial Infarction"


Step 2: Review the MeSH record Full Display.

The definition and list of subheadings for the MeSH term appear in the MeSH full display to help ensure that you have chosen the correct term. This display also assists you in identifying alternative search terms. Scroll down to see:

  • Entry terms: the search terms that, when entered in the MeSH database, will "map" to the current MeSH term. 
  • MeSH TreeThe MeSH tree hierarchy is especially helpful if you are not familiar with your topic - it allows you to view the term in a variety of contexts. Also, make sure you are searching at the right level in the tree. If not, select a broader or narrower term. 


Step 3: Use the MeSH record full display to further refine your search.

There are three options:

  • Attach one or more subheadings to the MeSH term.  Attaching subheadings to a MeSH term allows you to focus on a specific aspect of your topic.
  • Restrict to MeSH Major Topic so that your search will retrieve only citations where your subject is one of the main topics discussed in the article.
  • Select Do not include MeSH terms found below this term in the MeSH hierarchy if you do NOT want PubMed to search the narrower term found beneath your MeSH terms in the MeSH tree.


Step 4: Launch the Search in PubMed.

  • Click the Add to search builder button to send your MeSH term and subheading to the PubMed Search Builder (find it on the upper right side of the MeSH full record screen). 
    • Note: The MeSH search box is still available: you could continue to add MeSH terms to the search statement if you wished.
  • Finally, click the Search PubMed button to send the search to PubMed.

Gif showing PubMed search builder, adding the "prevention and control" subheading to the "myocardial infarction" term and clicking on "add to search builder"