Using Search Functionality

This tab provides information on the most commonly used features for the tab being used. For complete information on New Search including demonstrations, information on error messages, and FAQ's, click here


Using Medical Terms (MeSH) Search

Use the Medical Terms (MeSH) Tab to search for medical concepts using the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) thesaurus. This feature allows users to search complex medical concepts using a single term without the need to type long list of synonyms.
MeSH Search Basics

Advanced MeSH Features


What is MeSH

Medical Subject Headings, or MeSH, is the National Library of Medicine's (NLM) controlled vocabulary thesaurus used by NLM for indexing articles from the leading biomedical journals for MEDLINE®/PubMED®. The thesaurus provides a single entry point (controlled term) to search for Medical concepts that appear in the literature under a variety of different terms or concepts.

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Why should I use MeSH?

MeSH searching allows an easy way to search for medical concepts using a single entry point, without having to enter large lists of synonyms for that concept. Since MeSH is displayed in a hierarchical (tree) structure, it allows users to search, in one step, a single term plus the more specific terms that appear under it in the hierarchy.

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What databases in The Cochrane Library are indexed using MeSH?

The following databases in The Cochrane Library have MeSH headings assigned to them:

  • Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
    • Cochrane Reviews: Fully Indexed but may take up to 6 months for indexing for “New” reviews to appear
    • Cochrane Protocols: Not Indexed
  • Trials: Medline articles – fully indexed. Records sourced from EMBASE or via handsearching are not indexed
  • Other Reviews: Fully indexed
  • Health Technologies: Fully Indexed
  • Economic Evaluations: Fully Indexed

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Using Auto-suggest

On the MeSH tab, the auto-suggest feature provides a list of all controlled entry terms and synonyms in the MeSH thesaurus. Selecting a term from this list will guarantee a match to an existing MeSH term. If auto-suggest does not provide a suitable match, use the lookup button and review terms listed under “Thesaurus Match” for additional suggestions.

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Using MeSH Search and Lookup

Enter your term in the search box. As the term is typed, suggested terms are presented by the search. Select a term from the auto-suggest list or use the term as entered. Hit the enter key, or click the lookup button, to view appropriate MeSH terms.

  • If using the auto-suggest feature, your term is automatically mapped to the best MeSH term for this concept.
  • If using your term as entered and a specific match is not found, review the terms under the left column, Thesaurus Match, and select the most suitable term from this list.
  • If no MeSH terms are found, try using other synonyms for the concept being searched.

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Why Does the Term Sometimes Change when I Hit Lookup?

If using the auto-suggest feature, the term is automatically mapped to the best MeSH term for this concept. This may result in a different term being displayed in the search box then the one entered

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About the MeSH browse display

The MeSH display is broken up into four areas.

Definition: Provides information on how NLM indexes this term

Thesaurus Matches: Provides a list of MeSH terms containing one or more of your terms

MeSH Trees: View all the trees that a term appears in. Browse through trees to view broader and more specific concepts

Database Results: Shows the counts for the MeSH term selected in each of the Cochrane databases.

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Viewing Results

After selecting a MeSH term, the results panel will update to show you the number of articles in each of the databases that contain that MeSH term. Click on the “View Results” button and results will be displayed on the bottom of the page. In the left hand column of the results, the radio button will indicate which database results you are looking at. The numbers in parentheses after the database names indicate the number of articles found for your search in that specific database.

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Saving a MeSH Search

Individual MeSH Searches can be saved by selecting a MeSH term and using the “Save Search” button. To save searches, a user must be registered with The Cochrane Library and be logged in to their account.

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Running a Saved MeSH Search

To run a previously saved MeSH search, a user must be registered with The Cochrane Library and be logged in to their account. Go to the the Saved MeSH Searches Section under the MeSH Browser and click on the arrow, ►, to see All Saved MeSH Searches. Select the load button, , to run the search. Note: The Saved MeSH Search section appears only if user has one or more saved MeSH searches

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Setting (and turning off) an Alert for a Saved MeSH Search

For Saved MeSH Searches, users can set an alert so they will receive an email every time new articles indexed with that MeSH term are published in The Cochrane Library. To set an alert, log in to your user account, go to the Saved MeSH Searches Section and click on the arrow, ►, to see All Saved MeSH Searches. Find the search you wish to set the alert for and click the checkbox at the end of the search line. Checking the box turns the alert on, unchecking turns off the alert.

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Using Qualifiers

Use the box to the right of the search box, for adding limits by qualifier. Users can select qualifiers from the pull down menu or can type the two letter abbreviation for the qualifier in the box. If entered along with a MeSH term, that qualifier will be applied to that MeSH term. Qualifiers can also be searched and used on their own.

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Why do qualifiers I pick sometimes disappear?

Not all qualifiers can be applied to all MeSH terms. If qualifiers are selected first, and then the MeSH term is selected, only those qualifiers valid for that MeSH term will be retained. For best results, lookup your MeSH term first and then only valid qualifiers for that term will be presented in the qualifier list.

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Using Thesaurus Matches

The Thesaurus Matches Section provides information on MeSH terms that contain one or more of your search term(s). Use this area to review other MeSH terms that might be of interest. Selecting a term from the list, will lookup that term.

If the term is an exact match for a MeSH heading or one of its synonyms, it will be presented at the top of the list. For searches containing two or more search terms, phrase match section, will return terms where two or more of the words were matched to a MeSH Heading or one of its synonyms. The third section, Any Word Match, will bring back results where any of the terms matched an existing MeSH term or synonym.

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About MeSH Trees

The MeSH trees section identifies all trees that the selected MeSH term appears in. By default, a MeSH term will be exploded and searched in all trees. For experienced MeSH users, options are provided to limit a search to specific trees or to choose to search for a term only without term explosion.

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Browsing MeSH Trees

Users can browse through trees to look for other terms that might be of interest. If a number appears in brackets after the MeSH term this indicates that narrow terms are available. Click on a link to see all narrower terms for a specific MeSH tree. Selecting a different term within the tree will update the search box and change your search results accordingly.

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Exploding Terms

MeSH terms are arranged hierarchically by subject categories with more specific (narrower) terms arranged beneath broader terms. Term Explosion means that a term and all the specific terms that appear below it will be searched. To search for only a specific MeSH term without any of its more specific terms (unexploded), select the “Single MeSH Term” radio button. You must click the “Select” button for these limits to be applied to your search.

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Selecting Specific Trees

To search a term only in specific trees, select the option “Explode in Selected trees” and check the tick box next to the trees you wish to use. You must click the “Select” button for these limits to be applied to your search.

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Using Search Results

The Search results section provides information on the search being run and any limits applied. It also shows the number of articles in each of The Cochrane Library Databases that are indexed using the specific term. From this area, users can choose to view results, add this Mesh Search to Search Manager to build complex searches or save this MeSH search.

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Adding MeSH terms to Search Manager

To add MeSH terms within complex searches you are building in Search Manager use the “Add to Search Manager” button in the Search Results section. Once you have selected the MeSH term and applied all desired limits or qualifiers, this button will allow you to add your MeSH Search to the Search Manager.

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