Patient-Controlled Analgesia (PCA)

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

About PCA

Figure 1. Using the PCA

Figure 1. Using the PCA

PCA helps you control your pain by letting you give yourself pain medication. It uses a computerized pump to send pain medication into your vein (intravenous, or IV PCA) or into your epidural space, which is in your spine (see Figure 1). Whether you have an IV PCA or an epidural PCA depends on what you and your doctor decide is right for you.

PCA isn’t right for everyone. Some people may not be able to use PCA. Before you get PCA, tell your doctor if you have weakness in your hands and think you may have trouble pushing the PCA button. You should also tell your doctor if you have sleep apnea. This may affect the way we prescribe your medication.

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Using the PCA Pump

To give yourself pain medication, press the button attached to the pump when you have pain (see Figure 1). The pump will send a safe dose that your doctor has prescribed.

Only you should push the PCA button. Family and friends should never push the button.

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

  • As needed. You get your pain medication only when you press the button. It won’t let you 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” way. This lets you take extra doses safely if you’re having pain.

Tell your doctor if PCA isn’t helping with your pain. You should also tell your doctor if your pain changes, such as if it gets worse, feels different than before, or you feel pain in a new place. Your doctor may be able to change the medication to one that may work better for you.

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Side Effects

Pain medication you get through PCA can have side effects. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any of these problems:

  • Constipation (having fewer bowel movements than usual)
  • Nausea (feeling like you’re going to throw up)
  • Vomiting (throwing up)
  • Dry mouth
  • Itching
  • Changes in your vision, such as seeing things that aren’t there
  • Drowsiness, dizziness, or confusion
  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling in your arms or legs
  • Trouble urinating (peeing)
  • Any other side effects or problems

Your doctor may be able to give you a different medication that has fewer side effects.

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