MeSH or Medical Subject Headings

By Rebecca Blunk
Published on 29 July, 2022

Searching for health-related topics? Try using MeSH!

If you are a Health Sciences student, taking a class related to health science topics, or just interested in the subject in general, you may find that locating sources from the CSN Libraries catalog and databases that are precisely related to a medical or scientific term to be challenging at times! You may ask yourself whether you should be using the search term “heart attack” or “myocardial infarction,” and you may not be aware that what people often commonly refer to as having “shin splints” is technically an ailment known as “medial tibial stress syndrome.” How do you perform the best search in these situations that will retrieve the most accurate and relevant results? Let us introduce you to MeSH!

What is MeSH?

MeSH stands for Medical Subject Headings, which is a controlled vocabulary (standardized and/or organized arrangements of words or phrases) thesaurus of terms created by the National Library of Medicine and used for MEDLINE (PubMed) article records. Searching MeSH terms will help you find accurate and useful results because they:

  • give uniformity and consistency to the indexing and cataloging of biomedical literature
  • give thorough scope notes helping you to define concepts
  • are divided into 16 main categories arranged in a hierarchical tree structure
  • are updated annually and selected based on their importance to clinical care and research

How do MeSH terms work?

MeSH terms are organized hierarchically on “trees” by subject category with more specific terms arranged beneath a broader term. The narrower term you use for your search, the more limited result you will find.

Using “Viral Meningitis” as an example, we can see where it sits on the hierarchical tree in MeSH:

How do I identify a MeSH term?

You can figure out what MeSH term to use by accessing the National Library of Medicine’s MeSH page online at and type in the term you are thinking of researching. It’s okay if you don’t know the official medical term. For example, if you type in “shin splints” and perform a search:

The MeSH identifier will automatically retrieve the information for “medial tibial stress syndrome”:

Once you know which MeSH term to use in a search, you can perform an advanced search in several CSN Libraries databases in order to retrieve the most accurate and relevant results!

Which CSN Libraries databases can I search using MeSH?

Many of our library databases allow you to use MeSH terms to perform a search. The databases that use MeSH terms include:

Want more information? 

Searching using MeSH may differ from strategies you already use when looking for information. If you have any questions about MeSH or how to perform a search using MeSH, please contact Rebecca Blunk, the CSN librarian supporting the health sciences at