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Patient-Controlled Analgesia (PCA)

This information will help you understand patient-controlled analgesia and how to use it.

Patient-controlled analgesia helps you control your pain by administering your pain medicine. It is often called “PCA.” PCA uses a computerized pump to deliver pain medicine into a vein (intravenous, or IV) or epidural space (in your spine). Whether you have an IV PCA or epidural PCA depends on what you and your doctor decided was right for you. When you have pain, you simply press the button attached to the pump. The pump will deliver a safe dose that your doctor has prescribed. Only you should push the PCA button. Family and friends should never push the button.

How It Is Given:

The pump can be programmed to deliver your medicine in 2 ways: 

  • As needed - You get the medicine only when you press the button. It will not allow you to get more medicine than prescribed. The pump is set to allow only a certain number of doses per hour.
  • Continuous - You get the medicine at a constant rate all the time. This can be combined with the as needed mode. That allows you to take extra doses safely if you are having pain.

Possible Side Effects:

Pain medication delivered by the PCA pump can have the following side effects. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any of these or any other problems:

  • Constipation
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Itching
  • Changes in vision, such as seeing things that are not there
  • Drowsiness, dizziness, or confusion
  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling in your arms or legs
  • Difficulty urinating

Special Instructions:

PCA is not right for everyone.

  • Patients who are confused or cannot follow these instructions should not use PCA.
  • If you have been told you have sleep apnea, tell your doctor. This may affect the way we prescribe your PCA.
  • If you have weakness in your hands and may have trouble pushing the PCA button, talk with your doctor or nurse.

When using PCA, tell your doctor or nurse if:

  • The medicine is not controlling your pain.
  • Your pain changes. For example, tell them if:
    • It gets worse
    • You feel it in a new place
    • Feels different than before