Intravenous Patient-Controlled Analgesia (PCA)
Controlling pain during your recovery is important. PCA allows you to control the amount of pain medication you receive. PCA is short for “patient-controlled analgesia.” Analgesia (AN-uhl-GEE-zha) means pain relief.
Pain control helps the natural healing process. Without the fear of pain, you should feel less anxious. You should be able to relax more easily. This, in turn, will help you become more physically active, aiding the healing process. Pain medications are not addictive when the medication is prescribed for a short time and stopped gradually.
How PCA works
With PCA, you are the key to managing your pain because only you know how you really feel. Your doctor and nurse will work closely with you. They will depend on you to describe your pain in four ways:
- What hurts?
- Where does it hurt?
- When does it hurt?
- How much does it hurt?
You will be asked to rate your pain on a scale from 0 (no pain) to 10 (worst pain you can imagine). Your responses will guide your doctor and nurse in setting the dosage of pain medication to meet your needs.
You will receive the pain medication prescribed by your doctor through a computerized pump. This pump, called a PCA pump, allows you to adjust your medication to provide a level of comfort that is right for you. The PCA pump is connected to a syringe of pain medication that is attached to your intravenous (IV) line. The pump is mounted on a pole near your bed.
To activate the PCA pump, you will press and release a control button to deliver a dose of medication to relieve your pain. The pump will “chirp” to indicate that you have received the dose of medication. Your doctor orders the dose.
No one except the patient should push the PCA button.
Harmful effects can occur if someone other than you pushes the button. You can be overdosed.
Family members or friends may feel that they can help you by pushing the button. If they do, you could receive too much medicine. This could cause life-threatening complications.
How to get relief
PCA may not free you of all pain, but small, frequent doses usually provide steady relief. Use the PCA pump to keep your pain at a level you can tolerate. Do not wait until your pain gets worse to give yourself the pain medication. If you wait too long to give yourself the medication, it may be difficult to get comfortable again.
You should not let fear or concerns about this pain control method keep you from using your pain medication. Talk openly and honestly with your doctor and nurse about any questions or concerns you may have. This is the best way to get the pain control that is right for you.
Protection from overdose
The nurse will set the pump’s controls to deliver pain medication in the way prescribed by your doctor.
There are several different ways your pain medication may be delivered. One way is to receive your medication continuously at a set rate. You would be able to give yourself more doses as needed. Another way is to receive only doses that you give yourself.
After each dose, the pump is set to wait several minutes before another dose can be given. However, if anyone other than the patient presses the button, the patient may receive more pain medication than needed, resulting in serious complications.
Your pain medication may cause some side effects. Tell your nurse or doctor if you have any of the following:
- Difficulty urinating
- Excessive sleepiness
You can receive treatment for side effects.
Questions and concerns
If you have any questions or concerns about PCA, talk to your nurse or doctor. Your nurse can contact your doctor 24 hours a day.