Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)
MeSH is a controlled vocabulary produced by the National Library of Medicine, Washington, DC.
"Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), the hierarchical
scheme of some 19,000 main headings and codes used for
indexing databases produced by the National Library of Medicine,
must be cited when looking for “best practices” in indexing. The
Medline database is a premier biomedical database and is the
electronic counterpart to Index Medicus, International Nursing
Index, International Dental Literature. MeSH indexing available
within Medline is a key feature of the database.
From 6-15 subject headings are assigned for each article, with up to 3 assigned for major emphasis of the article. Articles are indexed to the most specific term available to allow for very precise subject searching. Subheadings, terms which cover general, frequently discussed aspects of a subject such as adverse effects or therapy, are
combined with MeSH terms to indicate the specific focus of an article. A particularly powerful feature designed into Medline allows users to “explode” a category of terms in a hierarchy from general to specific to retrieve all of the articles on the general term and all of the specific terms listed underneath. “Explode” is distinct from the
concept of truncation in that the terms do not have to begin with the same string of characters to be retrieved. “Exploding” a term allows the information requestor to search a term and all levels of its narrower terms.
The Medical Subject Headings are continually revised and updated by subject specialists responsible for areas of the health sciences in which they have knowledge and expertise. The staff collects new terms as they appear in the scientific literature or in emerging areas of research; define these terms within the context of existing
vocabulary; and recommend their addition to MeSH. They also receive suggestions from indexers and other professionals. This indexing structure has stood the test of time and is widely acclaimed for the accuracy and precision in retrieval that it allows.
MeSH should be considered the gold standard and a benchmark for evaluating indexing structures in other disciplines" (Sykes, 2001, 5-6)
Jenuwine & Floyd (2004) investigated the performance of two search strategies in the retrieval of primary research papers containing descriptive information on the sleep of healthy people from MEDLINE. Two search strategies—one based on the use of only Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), the second based on text-word searching—were evaluated as to their specificity and sensitivity in retrieving a set of relevant research papers published in the journal Sleep from 1996 to 2001 that were preselected by a hand search. The subject search provided higher specificity than the text-word search (66% and 47%, respectively) but lower sensitivity (78% for the subject search versus 88% for the text-word search). Each search strategy gave some unique relevant hits. The paper concludes that the two search strategies complemented each other and should be used together for maximal retrieval. No combination of MeSH terms could provide comprehensive yet reasonably precise retrieval of relevant articles. The text-word searching had sensitivity and specificity comparable to the subject search. In addition, use of text words "normal..... healthy," and "control" in the title or abstract fields to limit the final sets provided an efficient way to increase the specificity of both search strategies.
Backus, J. E. B.; Davidson, S. & Rada, R. (1987). Searching
for patterns in the MESH vocabulary. Bulletin of the Medical Library
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Coletti, M. H.; Bleich, H. L. (2001) Technical milestone - Medical subject headings used to search the biomedical literature. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, 8(4), 317-323.
Coletti, M. H.; Bleich, H. L. (2001). Medical subject headings used to search the biomedical literature (vol 8, pg 317, 2001). Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, 8(6), 597-597.
Cooper, G. F. & Miller, R. A. (1998). An experiment comparing lexical and statistical methods for extracting MeSH terms from clinical free text. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, 5(1), 62-75.
Friedman, P. W.; Winnick, B. L.; Friedman, C. P. & Mickelson, P. C. (2000). Development of a MeSH-based index of faculty research interests. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, S, 265-269.
Gault, L. V.; Shultz, M. & Davies, K. J. (2002). Variations in Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) mapping: from the natural language of patron terms to the controlled vocabulary of mapped lists Bulletin of the Medical Library Association, 90(2) , 173-180.
Gault, L. V.; Shultz, M. & Davies, K. J. (2002). Variations in Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) mapping: from the natural language of patron terms to the controlled vocabulary of mapped lists. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 90(2), 173-180.
Hallett, K. S. (1998) Separate but equal? a system comparison study of MEDLINE's controlled vocabulary MeSH. Bulletin of the Medical Library Association, 1998, 86(4), 491-495.
Humphrey, S. M. (1984). File maintenance of MeSH headings in MEDLINE. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 35(1), 34-44.
Jenuwine, E. S. & Floyd, J. A. (2004). Comparison of Medical Subject Headings and text-word searches in MEDLINE to retrieve studies on sleep in healthy individuals. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 92(3), 349-353. http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=442177
Kahn, TJ ; Ninomiya, H. (2003). Changing vocabularies: A guide to help bioethics searchers find relevant literature in National Library of Medicine databases using the medical subject headings (MeSH) indexing vocabulary. Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, 13(3), 275-311.
Kim, W.; Aronson, A. R. & Wilbur, W. J. (2001). Automatic MeSH term assignment and quality assessment. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, S, 319-323.
Kirtland, M. (1981). Macro-thesauri and micro-thesauri: Changes occurring in MeSH-derived thesauri and a solution to some related search handicaps. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 32(4), 249-252.
Krauthammer, M.; Kra, P. & Friedman, C. (2001). Linking protein interaction data to the MESH hierarchy. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, S, 947-947.
Lowe, H. J. & Barnett, G. O. (1994). Understanding and using the Medical Subject Headings (MESH) vocabulary to perform literature searches. JAMA-Journal of the American Medical Association, 271(14), 1103-1108.
Masarie, F. E. & Miller, R. A. (1987). Medical Subject Headings and medical terminology: An analysis of terminology used in hospital charts. Bulletin of the Medical Library Association, 75(2), 89-94.
Micco, H. M. (1985). A comparison of subject access systems in medicine LCSH, MESH, PRECIS. Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science, 22, 41-53.
Michel, P.; Mouillet, E. & Salmi, L. R. (2006) Comparison of Medical Subject Headings and standard terminology regarding performance of diagnostic tests. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 94(2), 221-223.
Nelson, S. J.; Johnston, D.; Powell, T. & Hole, W. T. (2001). Making the marriage: Reconciling views of concepts and meaning in MeSH and the UMLS Metathesaurus. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, S, 985-985.
Norris, C. (1981). MeSH: The subject heading approach. ASLIB Proceedings, 33(4), 153-159.
Olson, T. & Strawn, G. (1997). Mapping the LCSH and MeSH systems. Information Technology and Libraries, 16(1), 5-19.
O'Rourke, A ; Booth, A; Ford, N. (1999). Another fine MeSH: clinical medicine meets information science. Journal of Information Science, 25(4), 275-281.
Pollitt, A. S. (1988). Menuse for MEDLINE: End-user browsing and searching of MEDLINE via the MeSH-thesaurus. International Forum on Information and Documentation, 13(4), 11-17.
Richwine, P. W. (1993). A study of MeSH and UMLS for subject searching in an online catalog. Bulletin of the Medical Library Association, 81(2), 229-233.
Swanson, D. R.; Smalheiser, N. T. & Torvik, V. I. (2006). Ranking indirect connections in literature based discovery. The role of Medical Subject Headings. Journal of the American Society for Information Science & Technology, Published online 28 June.
Sykes, J. (2001). The value of Indexing. A White Paper
Prepared for Factiva, a Dow Jones and Reuters Company.
Weinberg, B. H. & Cunningham, J. A. (1985). The relationship between term specificity in MeSH and online postings in MEDLINE. Bulletin of the Medical Library Association, 73(4), 365-372.
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (2006). Medical Subject Headings. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_Subject_Headings
Zweigenbaum, P.; Darmoni, S. J. & Grabar, N. (2001). The contribution of morphological knowledge to French MeSH mapping for information retrieval. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, S, 796-800.
National Library of Medicine, MeSH- homepage: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/mesh/meshhome.html
See also: Medicine; Subject heading
Last edited: 20-07-2006