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Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) and More: Exploring MeSH

Learn about controlled vocabularies and how to use controlled vocabularies for a thorough literature search.

Explore the MeSH Database

Now, let's try that Phthises search using MeSH. First, go to the MeSH database link below, and search for "Phthises."

MeSH indexers who have read the current biomedical literature agree that the topic of Phthises is best described as "Tuberculosis, Pulmonary." A search in MeSH for any of the synonyms for this topic take the searcher directly to the "Tuberculosis, Pulmonary" Subject Heading. From there, searchers can see the term's definition and all the synonyms for this topic (listed as "Entry Terms"), the related Subheadings, and the place(s) in which the topic appears in the MeSH hierarchy.

Watch the MeSH Video (11 min)

Fortunately for researchers in the biological and medical sciences, a key database, MEDLINE, has a robust controlled vocabulary called MeSH (Medical Subject Headings). To understand how the MeSH vocabulary is constructed, watch the video from the National Library of Medicine.

Video (Flash)


Explore the Visual Medical Dictionary (with MeSH)

MeSH is openly accessible, and some third parties use the MeSH controlled vocabulary to build advanced search tools. One such tool, the Visual Medical Dictionary, uses a natural language processing module that reads the literature the same way a human scientist or MeSH indexer would. This allows the Visual Medical Dictionary to show functional relationships between MeSH terms by using color and line thickness:

  • The thicker the line, the more related the two terms.
  • The darker the color, the more positive the outcomes.

Try the "Phthises" search once more in the Visual Medical Dictionary, and compare/contrast with what you found in the MeSH Database. What unique information does the Visual Medical Dictionary provide? NOTE: Not all MeSH terms are present in the Visual Medical Dictionary.