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Health Sciences Literature Searching: MeSH in PubMed

A guide to help you search the Health Sciences literature

Jump to:

Use the following links to jump to a chosen step in the process of using MeSH to narrow your search:

1: MeSH headings

2: Searching

3: Retrieving a term

4: Selection

5: Search builder

6: Refine Your Search


PubMed's MeSH is a thesaurus of controlled vocabulary terms that allow you to search the database more effectively.

What is MeSH?

MeSH is short for Medical Subject Headings. These terms are managed by the National Library of Medicine to be used as controlled vocabulary terms.

Click here to watch a video tutorial on MeSH.

Click here to watch a video tutorial on the specifics of the MeSH page.

Step 1: Getting started

On PubMed's front page, click "MeSH Database" under the heading "More Resources".

Step 2: Searching

"Teen pregnancy" is the key concept we entered into the MeSH search bar.

Step 3: Retrieval

The first section defines the closest matching MeSH term to our entry.



If the database isn't sure what the best term is it will provide a list of candidates. Click the one you think fits best.

Step 4: Selection

 If that is the term you want, click "Add to Search Builder" and "Search PubMed".


New topics or articles may not come up because MeSH terms take time to develop.

Step 5: Search Builder

The search builder helps you combine multiple MeSH terms in your search at the same time. Repeat Steps 2 &3 to find another term.

After finding the right term, pick either AND, OR, or NOT from the drop-down menu to combine the terms in the search. Click "Search PubMed" to finish.


AND narrows the results. OR expands the results. NOT excludes the second term from your results.


Click here to watch a video tutorial on using AND/OR in PubMed.


You can add as many terms as you like to the search builder but it is better to keep the number of terms low so the results are easier to manage.


To undo adding to the search builder, click in the text box and delete the terms you don't want.

The search builder can also be accessed by clicking "Advanced" beneath the search bar.

It looks different than the Search Builder embedded in MeSH but works exactly the same.

Click here to watch a video tutorial on PubMed's search builder.

How do you refine MeSH searches?

If you still receive too many search results, you can click here to refine your MeSH search further.


Subject Guide

David Nolfi's picture
David Nolfi


If you're confused about using PubMed, look for the "Help" link for more information.

You can also Ask A Librarian any time of day for help.