Medical Subject Headings
|Description||Medical Subject Headings|
|F B Rogers|
Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) is a comprehensive
MeSH was introduced in the 1960s, with the NLM's own
The 2009 version of MeSH contains a total of 25,186 subject headings, also known as descriptors. Most of these are accompanied by a short description or definition, links to related descriptors, and a list of synonyms or very similar terms (known as entry terms). This additional information and the hierarchical structure (see below) make the MeSH essentially a
The descriptors or subject headings are arranged in a hierarchy. A given descriptor may appear at several locations in the hierarchical tree. The tree locations carry systematic labels known as tree numbers, and consequently one descriptor can carry several tree numbers. For example, the descriptor "Digestive System Neoplasms" has the tree numbers C06.301 and C04.588.274; C stands for Diseases, C06 for Digestive System Diseases and C06.301 for Digestive System Neoplasms; C04 for Neoplasms, C04.588 for Neoplasms By Site, and C04.588.274 also for Digestive System Neoplasms. The tree numbers of a given descriptor are subject to change as MeSH is updated. Every descriptor also carries a unique alphanumerical ID that will not change.
Most subject headings come with a short description or definition. See the MeSH description for diabetes type 2 as an example. The explanatory text is written by the MeSH team based on their standard sources if not otherwise stated. References are mostly encyclopaedias and standard textbooks of the subject areas. References for specific statements in the descriptions are not given, instead readers are referred to the bibliography.
In addition to the descriptor hierarchy, MeSH contains a small number of standard qualifiers (also known as subheadings), which can be added to descriptors to narrow down the topic. For example, "Measles" is a descriptor and "epidemiology" is a qualifier; "Measles/epidemiology" describes the subheading of epidemiological articles about Measles. The "epidemiology" qualifier can be added to all other disease descriptors. Not all descriptor/qualifier combinations are allowed since some of them may be meaningless. In all there are 83 different qualifiers.
In addition to the descriptors, MeSH also contains some 139,000 supplementary concept records. These do not belong to the controlled vocabulary as such; instead they enlarge the thesaurus and contain links to the closest fitting descriptor to be used in a MEDLINE search. Many of these records describe chemical substances.