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Searching for Health Sciences Research

Learn how to create a searchable question to find and access literature to help answer your clinical question.

Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)

The controlled vocabulary used by the MEDLINE database is called Medical Subject Headings, or MeSH. You can access the MEDLINE database in PubMed or in EBSCO; although the two platforms both house the MEDLINE collection, the way they behave are different.

Let's look at an example: First, go to the MeSH database, 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.

Get Help Using MeSH

The video below explains how to use MeSH in Pubmed. Additional information on using MeSH in EBSCO is linked below.

Exploding Terms??

When using MeSH terms, Pubmed automatically "explodes" the subject heading -- this means that Pubmed will search for your subject heading, but it will also search for any subject headings underneath that term in the MeSH tree. This will expand your search results. For example, if you were searching for Tinea, you'll also see information about Onychomycosis, Tinea Capitis, etc.

If you want to turn off Pubmed's automatic explode option, you can add the following to your search [mh:noexp]

 

MEDLINE in EBSCOhost, on the other hand, does not automatically explode terms. When browsing the MeSH database, you'll see an optional checkbox to "explode" the search term. This means that the database will search for your subject heading, but it will also search for any sub-headings underneath that term. This will expand your search results. In general, it is recommended to explode your search.

The "major concept" checkbox in EBSCO will limit your results just to articles where the subject heading has been designated as a major concept. This will reduce your results, and unless you are working with a huge amount of search results, we recommend that you do NOT check the "major concept" box.

Searching MEDLINE: PubMed vs EBSCO

Phrase Searching Commands
 

PUBMED EBSCO
  • Use of quotation marks (“used tires”) will search the PubMed Phrase index.
  • If the term is not included in the phrase index, PubMed will revert to using Automatic Term Mapping to process the words in the quoted phrase
  • Allows searches for embedded stop words or Boolean operators (e.g. “hit or miss”)
  • Use of quotation marks (“used tires”) will cause EBSCO to look for words in the exact order
  • Allows searches for embedded stop words or Boolean operators (e.g. “hit or miss”)

Adjacency Searching Commands

 

PUBMED EBSCO
  • No adjacency search function available
  • N# for bidirectional adjacency
  • W# for unidirectional adjacency

Truncation Searching Commands

 

PUBMED EBSCO
  • Uses asterisk (*) for unlimited truncation.
  • Use of * turns off automatic term mapping for that term
  • Truncated terms must contain at least four characters
  • No character limited truncation searching
  • Uses asterisk (*) for unlimited truncation.
  • The hash sign (#) matches one optional character.
  • The question mark (?) matches exactly one character.
  • No minimum character limit for * truncation
  • No character limited truncation searching

MeSH Explosion Commands

 

PUBMED EBSCO
Automatic explosion.  Use [mh:noexp] to turn off explode feature Automatic explosion.  Use [mh:noexp] to turn off explode feature

 

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.

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