Patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) is a pain management method that allows you to control the amount of pain medication you receive. PCA uses a pump to deliver pain medications, either intravenously (a needle inserted into a vein) or as an epidural (a catheter inserted into the space around your spinal cord). A nurse sets the pump’s controls to deliver pain medication as prescribed by your doctor. Depending on what your doctor prescribes, your pain medication may be delivered continuously or only when you activate the pump. The first method also allows you to give yourself additional doses as needed. For both methods, the pump is set to wait several minutes before another dose can be given.
Using a PCA
To activate a PCA pump, press and then release a control button. This will deliver the specific dose of medication determined by your doctor. A PCA may not free you from all pain, but small, frequent doses usually provide steady relief and actually use less pain medication. Use the 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 and more pain medicine will be required. Friends and family should not take it upon themselves to activate the pump for you, thinking they are helping to relieve your pain. You could end up receiving more medication than you need, which would increase the risk of side effects. Remember, only you know how you feel, so you are the best judge of when you need pain medication.
Possible Side Effects
The side effects of narcotic pain medications can occur whether you receive the medications by mouth or as an injection, IV, or epidural. Tell your nurse or doctor if you experience any of the following:
- difficulty urinating
- excessive sleepiness