Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Library Guides

Drew it Better: PubMed, Medline and more: MeSH and Medline

A guide with details about these resources and how they are used and can be useful to researchers

About Medline

MeSH stands for Medical SubHeadings and can be used as a way to search for information in MEDLINE.

MeSH terms can be used to search nearly 90% of the PubMed database, which means citations Indexed for MEDLINE. 

  • MeSH contains over 27,000 descriptors. It is updated weekly and reviewed annually
  • Limit searches to citations where the MeSH term is the focus of the article.
  • Enables the searcher to broaden/narrow a search using the MeSH hierarchy.
  • Allows the searcher to use subheadings to build complex and focused search strategies. 

MeSH terms are known as subject headings (also called: controlled vocabulary, thesaurus terms, or descriptors) and are standardized terms that are attached to an article citation record that describes the subject concepts discussed in an article.  


Skilled subject analysts examine the journal articles and assign the most specific applicable MeSH terms.

Professionals tag articles about a given topic with MeSH subject headings, regardless of the synonyms used by the author to describe the topic. 

Use the hierarchical structure of MeSH to include narrower, more specific concepts in a broad concept search. Sometimes this is called "exploding" the search.


Subheadings will enable you to focus your search to particular aspects of a topic, such as the diagnosis of a disease.


CAUTION: searching with MeSH terms only retrieves records that are fully indexed. Citations that are "In Process" or "Supplied by Publisher" can only be searched by using keywords in PubMed.

MeSH -- What is it and how to use it?

Restrict to Major MeSH

In the MeSH Database, use Restrict to MeSH Major Topic to limit a search to citations where that term is the major focus of the article. The term is added to the search builder will be followed by [MAJR] (e.g. “Fentanyl” [MAJR]) 

Subheadings in MeSH

Subheadings help describe more completely a particular aspect of a topic. In the MeSH database, subheadings logically paired with the main heading are presented. Check the appropriate box(es), then use the Add to Search Builder button with OR to build a search. 

MeSH terms and heirarchy

MeSH terms are arranged hierarchically by subject categories with more specific (narrower) terms arranged beneath broader terms.

PubMed automatically searches to include all narrower terms unless you select the box for "Do not include MeSH terms found below this term in the MeSH hierarchy," found under the box to "Restrict to MeSH Major Topic."

Finding associated MeSH terms

To view MeSH terms for a selected article in PubMed, click on the link to MeSH Terms below the citation in the Abstract Format

MeSH terms: Identifying Major topics

Subject analysts examine each article and assign the most specific MeSH terms applicable, with a related subheading; typically ten to twelve headings per citations. In PubMed, the major topic is represented by an asterisk. 

Questions? Need Help? Email

Drew University Library,