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Patient Controlled Analgesia

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 3, 2022.

What is patient controlled analgesia (PCA)?

PCA is a way for you to give yourself pain medicine when you feel you need it. PCA allows you to get pain medicine without having repeated injections. A PCA machine is programmed to give you pain medicine slowly through an IV. PCA is used to treat short-term pain. PCA can also help manage pain from conditions such as cancer.

What should I tell my healthcare provider before I use PCA?

Any of the following may increase your risk for breathing problems while you are using PCA. Talk to your healthcare provider about these and any other health conditions you have:

  • Recent or long-term use of an opioid pain medicine, or no past use of any opioid
  • Recent use of medicines that make you drowsy, such as antihistamines, anxiety medicine, or sleep medicine
  • Current or long-term use of alcohol or drugs such as heroin
  • Breathing problems, such as asthma, sleep apnea, or COPD
  • Allergies to any medicines or any reactions to pain medicines

How does PCA work?

The PCA is a pump attached to a syringe filled with pain medicine. The PCA pump is built to make sure you do not get too much pain medicine. The machine has a lockout period that prevents you from getting a dose of medicine too soon. You may push the button many times, but the pump will only give you a set amount of medicine. PCA will be used until your pain can be controlled with pain pills. Healthcare providers will insert an IV into your vein. The PCA pump and syringe will be connected to your IV. You may get the medicine in any of the following ways:

  • You may have a PCA pump that will run only when you need pain relief. When you feel pain, you can push the button attached to the PCA pump. A small dose of pain medicine will be given through your IV. Your button may blink when you are able to get another dose from the pump.
  • You may receive a small amount of pain medicine running through your IV all the time. You may have a button so you can get more medicine when you need it.

What safety precautions do I need to take?

  • Do not let anyone push the button for you. Tell everyone who visits you not to push the button. Even if you are asleep and you could have more medicine, another person should not push the button for you. You might not need more pain medicine at that time. You could get more medicine than you need if the person pushes the button. Tell visitors that you will push the button when you need more pain medicine.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you are still uncomfortable a few minutes after you push the button. Your provider may be able to give you extra pain medicine. Your provider may also change how often you can get a dose of medicine or your dose amount.
  • Press the call button and ask for help before you get out of bed. Pain medicine might make you weak, dizzy, or less aware. This can increase your risk for falls. Do not get out of bed on your own. Ask for help, and stand up slowly.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you use a CPAP when you sleep. A CPAP or similar machine is used to keep your airway open if you have apnea or snore. Talk to your healthcare provider about using your machine in the hospital while you are using PCA. You might need to use a machine designed for people who are taking opioid pain medicines.
  • Do not remove your pulse oximeter. A pulse oximeter is a device that measures the amount of oxygen in your blood. It is usually worn as a sticker or clip over your finger or toe. This device helps healthcare providers monitor your breathing.

What are the benefits of PCA?

PCA will allow you to have control over how and when your pain is treated. You do not have to wait for healthcare providers to give you medicine. A PCA may better control your pain and keep you alert and awake. You may be able to start moving around sooner. This may help prevent blood clots from forming, and help you heal faster.

What are the risks of PCA?

The pain medicine given in the PCA may cause nausea, itchy skin, or trouble urinating. It may also cause constipation. Pain medicine may make you breathe less deeply or stop breathing. Healthcare providers will watch you closely to help prevent or treat these problems.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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