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PubMed: Why Use MeSH?

Why Use MeSH?

MeSH terms impose uniformity and consistency to the indexing of biomedical literature and are applied to citations when they are indexed for MEDLINE. This system offers three main advantages:

1. MeSH indexing facilitates the retrieval of relevant articles even when authors have used different words or spellings to describe the same topic. 

Lung cancer, lung tumor, lung neoplasm, and pulmonary cancer are all possible synonyms for the same topic. The MeSH term Lung Neoplasms covers all of the variations, saving you from having to type them all into your search.

2. MeSH indexing increases the discoverability of citations.

If a citation has no abstract or otherwise does not effectively convey the topic(s) discussed in the article, MeSH indexing allows for discovery of this citation even by basic keyword searching.

For example, run a basic search for chemoembolization and hepatocellular carcinoma. The citation below (PMID: 25376280) is found only thanks to the MeSH indexing. Since the term chemoembolization does not appear in the title, abstract, or any other field, prior to when this citation was indexed for MEDLINE it would be missed by a search for chemoembolization and hepatocellular carcinoma. This record can be found with these search terms only because the MeSH term Chemoembolization, Therapeutic has been applied.

Gif scrolling down to MeSH terms in a citation without an abstract

3. MeSH indexing facilitates searching of both the broad and the narrow simultaneously due to the existence of the MeSH hierarchy.

MeSH Headings, Subheadings and Publication Types are organized in hierarchies, or "MeSH trees".

At the most general level of the hierarchy are very broad headings such as "Anatomy" or "Mental Disorders".  More specific headings are found at narrower levels of the hierarchy, such as "Ankle" and "Conduct Disorder".  A MeSH term can be part of one or more hierarchies.

Check out the MeSH entry for Cardiovascular Diseases. Scroll to the bottom to view the MeSH tree.

If you are interested in smoking and cardiovascular disease, using the MeSH term "Cardiovascular Diseases"[MeSH] in your search will automatically retrieve citations containing the term smoking and cardiovascular diseases as well as smoking and the over 50 more specific types of cardiovascular disease found in the hierarchy. (e.g. smoking and cardiomegaly, smoking and hypertension, smoking and vasculitis, etc.)

Screenshot showing cardiovascular diseases MeSH tree