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How to use CINAHL: Searching CINAHL

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

Searching in CINAHL

Try breaking down your research question into subtopics to leverage your search in CINAHL.

Example Research Question: Does weight training in adults decrease the risk of heart attack?

1. Identify the main concepts of your research question and develop keywords for those concepts. Types of keywords might include:

  • Disease/condition
  • Intervention/treatment
  • Outcomes

2. Identify synonyms for your keywords or other ways to state your main concepts. For example:

  • "myocardial infarction" is another way of stating "heart attack"
  • "resistance training" is another way of stating "weight training"


The default fields searched in CINAHL are:

  • Title
  • Abstract
  • Subject Headings

The full text of the document is NOT automatically searched!


CINAHL subject headings are a thesaurus of terms that assist with a more effective search. The CINAHL subject headings are based on MeSH headings (but not necessarily the same), with additional specific nursing and allied health headings added as appropriate. Each article in CINAHL is assigned subject headings that describe its content. CINAHL headings are updated on a yearly basis. 



Search CINAHL Subject Headings for the best term(s) to use for your research. For example, a search of "heart attack" will instruct you to instead use the term "Myocardial Infarction."


Once you have selected the term you'd like to include in your search, you will have other options for building your search:

  • "EXPLODE" a term: CINAHL Subject Headings are arranged in a heirarchy. The "explode" feature allows you to select a term plus any terms indented underneath it.
  • Selecting "Major Concept" allows you to restrict your results to articles in which the subject heading is the main idea of the article. ***Use this option sparingly--it could result in missing relevant articles.***
  • SUBHEADINGS: Consider adding a subheading to your term for a more focused search. For example, if you are interested in the causes of myocardial infarction, you could select the "Etiology/ET" subheading.