Patient-Controlled Analgesia (PCA)

Figure 1.

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

PCA helps you control your pain by letting you give yourself pain medication. It uses a computerized pump to deliver 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 is not right for everyone. Some people may not be able to use PCA. Tell your doctor if you have weakness in your hands and think you may have trouble pushing the PCA button. Also, before you get PCA, tell your doctor if you have sleep apnea. This may affect the way we prescribe your medication. People who are confused or cannot follow these instructions should not use PCA.

Using the PCA

To give yourself pain medication, press the button attached to the pump when you have pain. 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.

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’re having pain.

Tell your doctor if your PCA is not helping with your pain. 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 delivered by the PCA can have side effects. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any of these problems:

  • Constipation
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • 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
  • Difficulty urinating
  • 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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