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Systematic Reviews

Searching in PubMed



PubMed is the free public interface to the database MEDLINE, created by the National Library of Medicine (NLM).  PubMed comprises more than 26 million citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life science journals, and online books. Citations may include links directly to full-text content.

Accessing PubMed

To access PubMed, click on the link provided in the Quick Links box on the library homepage. The image below is of the main PubMed page.

What is MeSH?

MeSH stands for Medical Subject Headings and is the vocabulary that helps to organize the citations found within the MEDLINE database.  MeSH terms can be used as a retrieval tool.  The NLM has tagged each article in PubMed with a handful of appropriate MeSH terms.  When you search for a MeSH term, all articles that were tagged with that MeSH term are retrieved.  

Searching with MeSH terms

MeSH clarifies

Suppose you wanted articles about how different cultures view a particular medical procedure.  If you search on the word Culture in PubMed without using MeSH, you get articles about tissue culture, Petri dish cultures, etc.  MeSH requires that you choose one (or more) subject heading related to culture, including ethnography, organizational culture, tissue culture techniques and more. 

MeSH broadens

Let's say you want to research injuries incurred by young pitchers.  These articles could be found by using the keywords "repetitive stress," "Little League Shoulder," "growth plate," "stress fracture" and many others. Instead of searching on each of those terms, you can use a single MeSH term (in this case, "repetitive stress") that captures them all.


It is not always necessary to search for MeSH terms, as PubMed automatically searches for MeSH terms when possible.  If you search for a keyword for which a MeSH term exists, PubMed automatically searches for that MeSH term. Also, it can take up to six months for MeSH terms to be applied.  If you search using MeSH terms exclusively, you will miss the most recent articles.

Searching with MeSH

To begin to search with the MeSH database, click on the PubMed logo (from any page)

This brings you back to the main PubMed search screen.  Look for the link for the MeSH Database (under "Explore")


This brings you to the MeSH database, where you can locate your MeSH terms.  To start, type a keyword into the search box. 



MeSH terms that pertain to that search term will appear.



Choose the most appropriate one(s) and they will auto-populate in the PubMed Search Builder to the right. 



You can click "Search PubMed" and you will be brought back to PubMed, and the results shown will be those citations returned by this MeSH seach.   Another way to search on MeSH terms is to COPY that phrase from the PubMed Search Builder. (shown above) then go back into PubMed and PASTE it into the PubMed search box. 

To get back to PubMed, change the drop-down box from "MeSH" to"PubMed."

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