Understanding and using the medical subject headings (MeSH) vocabulary to perform literature searches

JAMA. 1994 Apr 13;271(14):1103-8.


The United States National Library of Medicine's (NLM) MEDLINE database is the largest and most widely used medical bibliographic database. MEDLINE is manually indexed with NLM's Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) vocabulary. Using MeSH, a searcher can potentially create powerful and unambiguous MEDLINE queries. This article reviews the structure and use of MeSH, directed toward the nonexpert, and outlines how MeSH may help resolve a number of common difficulties encountered when searching MEDLINE. The increasing importance of the MEDLINE database as an information resource and the trend toward individuals performing their own bibliographic searches makes it crucial that health care professionals become familiar with MeSH.

MeSH terms

  • Databases, Bibliographic
  • Information Storage and Retrieval
  • MEDLINE* / organization & administration
  • Medical Informatics / methods
  • National Library of Medicine (U.S.)
  • Subject Headings*
  • United States