Last week talked about chemistry.  Today we talk about medicine.  Specifically, we will discuss Medical Subject Headings (MeSH).  MeSH is an example of controlled vocabulary which we is our topic for this month.  Controlled vocabulary is used in indexes to describe subjects systematically and consistently, and MeSH descriptors are probably some of the most widely used.  It’s no surprise that MedLine, PubGet, PubMed use MeSH since they’re biology related.  But they’re used in Scopus and IEEE Xplore also.

MeSH were created by the National Library of Medicine and are updated every year.  Currently there are over 26,000 descriptors and 177,000 entry words.  Entry words are terms that you can put into the MeSH Browser to find the appropriate descriptor.

MeSH are hierarchical and arranged in a tree format with up to 12 branches.  The first part of the number consists of letter and a number.  The letter stands for the major subject and the number a subheading.  Subsequent subheadings (i.e. smaller and smaller branches) are separated by a decimal.  So if any of you grind your teeth at night and have to wear a nightguard like I do,  you might have TMJ would be listed as a sub-sub-sub-sub-subheading under Diseases:

  • Diseases [C]
    • Musculoskeletal Diseases [C05]
      • Muscular Diseases [C05.651]
        • Craniomandibular Disorders [C05.651.243]
          • Temporomandibular Joint Disorders [C05.651.243.897]
            • Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction Syndrome [C05.651.243.897.897]

The major headings are as follows:

  1. Anatomy [A]
  2. Organisms [B]
  3. Diseases [C]
  4. Chemicals and Drugs [D]
  5. Analytical,Diagnostic and Therapeutic Techniques and Equipment [E]
  6. Psychiatry and Psychology [F]
  7. Phenomena and Processes [G]
  8. Disciplines and Occupations [H]
  9. Anthropology,Education,Sociology and Social Phenomena [I]
  10. Technology,Industry,Agriculture [J]
  11. Humanities [K]
  12. Information Science [L]
  13. Named Groups [M]
  14. Health Care [N]
  15. Publication Characteristics [V]
  16. Geographicals [Z]

Publication Characteristics and Geographicals are a little different as they don’t really describe the content of the book or journal article.  There are also a list of 83 qualifiers that are used in conjunction with MeSH.  Learn more about these here.  If you plan to use MeSH headings to search, it’s advisable you read up on how to use the MeSH Browser before you start.