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Patient-Controlled Analgesia (PCA)

This information will help you understand what patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) is and how to use your PCA pump.

Patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) helps you control your pain by administering your pain medication. PCA uses a computerized pump to deliver pain medication 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 Medication is Given with PCA

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

  • As needed - You get your pain medication only when you press the button. It will not allow you to get more medication than prescribed. The pump is set to allow only a certain number of doses per hour.
  • Continuous - You get your pain medication 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 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 your 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.

  • People 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 medication is not controlling your pain.
  • You are having side effects.
  • Your pain changes, such as if:
    • It gets worse
    • You feel it in a new place
    • Feels different than before

Your doctor may be able to change the medication to one that may work better for you or give you fewer side effects.