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Getting the Most Out of CINAHL: CINAHL Headings

An overview of using CINAHL to find information on nursing and allied health disciplines.

What are CINAHL Headings?

CINAHL Headings is a controlled vocabulary of subject terms. These terms are used to describe the content of the materials indexed in CINAHL. Using CINAHL Headings in searches saves you, the searcher, time and effort by bringing together multiple ways to refer to a disease, condition, anatomical part, or concept under a single term.

For example, using the CINAHL heading "Stroke" will also get articles on cerebral vascular accident(s), cerebrovascular accident(s), CVA(s), and strokes.

Click on the CINAHL Headings button at the top of the CINAHL display to begin incorporating subject terms in your search.

Partial screenshot highlighting the CINAHL Subject Heading link in the button bar header


You may also check off the "Suggest Subject Terms" box for CINAHL to display possible subject terms that match what you type in the search box.

Partial screenshot highighting the checkbox for the Suggest Subject Terms feature in CINAHL


CINAHL Headings Tutorial


Partial screenshot showing the tree view for the CINAHL subject heading for Patient Safety

"Explode" broadens your search and gets you more results. Selecting "Explode" retrieves all citations about the CINAHL Heading, as well as all citations about more narrower (or specific) term(s).

In the example to the right, selecting "Explode" for "Patient Safety" will retrieve articles on patient safety and on all of the different types of patient safety issues listed below it.

Major Concept

Partial screenshot highlighting the Major Concept opton when reviewing subject headings in CINAHL

"Major Concept" narrows your search and gets you less results. Selecting "Major Concept" retrieves citations for articles and publications where the CINAHL Heading is a main focus.

CINAHL typically assign three to four major concept headings to each publication.


Subheadings narrow your search and gets you less results. Subheadings allow you to indicate specific aspects of the CINAHL heading that are of interest. For example: the economic aspects of patient safety.

Partial screenshot highlighting  the location of subheadings option for CINAHL Subject Headings

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