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CINAHL Subject Headings - Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Where does EBSCO get the CINAHL Subject Headings from?

The CINAHL subject headings are based on the MeSH headings, with additional specific nursing and allied health headings added as appropriate. Each year, the headings are updated and revised relative to terminology needed in these fields. In addition, new terms from MeSH may be added as well.


Q. How many terms are in the CINAHL subject headings?

The number terms in the CINAHL subject headings are as follows:

  • Total Number of Headings 15,297
  • Total Number of Topical Subheadings 77
  • Total Number of Tertiary Headings 330
  • See References for the Headings 43,931


Q. How often are CINAHL subject headings updated?

CINAHL headings are updated on annual basis toward the end of the calendar year. This means that new headings may be added and applied to records in the CINAHL databases. At this time, scope notes and history notes may be adjusted as well.


Q. How does the CINAHL team assign major and minor subject headings for CINAHL products?

The title, abstract and the full article are reviewed by the indexer to determine what the article is about. Once the topic is determined (either about a disease, procedure, concept, issue, etc.) a further determination is made as to what specific area of the topic is covered (specific type of therapy, diagnosis, etc.). The indexer will then decide which specific headings to use to cover the topic and further qualify those headings with limits like subheadings such as nursing, therapy, manpower, etc., to outline the specific area of the topic being discussed. The indexer will include age groups to indicate if an age group is part of the main discussion (in adolescence, or even geographic area if that is important in the article, e.g. United States).

The indexer will assign as many headings as necessary to cover the full topic. These are assigned as "major" headings.

The article then is evaluated in the same way to see if side topics or side issues outside of the main topic are covered and headings are selected as above to cover these. They are assigned as minor headings.

If the topic covers three or more specific areas of the main topic, then additional headings will become minor headings. For example, if an article on asthma covers diet therapy, surgery, and drug therapy, then the heading asthma-therapy will be assigned as a major heading and asthma-diet therapy, asthma-drug therapy and asthma-surgery will be assigned as minor headings.

Also in research studies all research methodology terms indicating the type of research undertaken (e.g. qualitative study, cohort study, clinical trial, odds ratio etc.) are also assigned as minor headings. In a research study the population, age group and geographic area are assigned as minor headings.


Q. What new CINAHL subject headings were added in 2017?

Please click to view an Excel spreadsheet which contains new CINAHL subject headings in 2017.


Q. Which existing CINAHL subject headings have had scope notes added or revised in 2017?

Please click to view an Excel spreadsheet for existing CINAHL subject headings that have had scope notes added or revised.


Q. What does “Non-CINAHL” mean when this phrase is part of a CINAHL subject heading?

Subject headings that contain "Non-CINAHL" within are not used for indexing; they are included solely for the purpose of clarifying the logical structure of the tree.


Q. How do the CINAHL subject headings incorporate NANDA classification?

The NANDA classification system is included in the CINAHL subject headings today and these terms are used to index content that mentions using the classification (e.g. in a research study) or regarding content about the classification term itself. An example of such a heading is “Anxiety (NANDA).”


Q. Is there a print listing of CINAHL subject headings currently available?

The subject headings are not currently available in a printed, book format. You can access them online via CINAHL products by clicking on the CINAHL Headings link.