PCA stands for patient controlled analgesia. Analgesia simply means relief
of pain. After your operation or injury, your doctor may prescribe PCA for pain
How does the PCA machine work?
The machine contains a syringe of pain medication as prescribed by your doctor.
The syringe is attached to tubing and connected directly to your intravenous
(IV) line. Often the machine is set to deliver a small, constant flow of pain
medication. When you fell pain or discomfort, you should firmly press the button
on your machine and it will give you additional medication. You should hear
a soft "beep" when the button is pressed properly. You will generally feel the
effect of the medication within five minutes. Your machine has several safety
features and an alarm system. The machine is set up as prescribed by your doctor
and will give only small, measured amounts. The total amount you can give yourself
each hour is within a safe limit.
How often should I press the button?
Press the button when you are having pain! A small amount of pain medication
will be released into your bloodstream. Don't press the button if you are feeling
too sleepy. The more alert you feel, the better you are able to participate
in your therapy program, which will aid and may quicken your recovery.
How is PCA different from "hypos?"
The nurse must prepare a "hypo," which is a shot given into a muscle. It usually
takes about half an hour to feel the pain relieving effects of the medication
because it is absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream. Often you will become
quite sleepy, but after a few hours awaken with pain. Remember, with PCA you
usually receive a small continuous flow of medication, and also may give medication
yourself to provide a more constant level of comfort. This is the reason your
doctor often prescribes PCA for the first few days following your surgery or
injury, when you feel the most discomfort.
Can I become addicted?
No! Studies have shown that patients using PCA often use less medication during
their hospital stay. Usually you use the machine for only a few days, and them
oral medication is enough to relieve your pain.
Are there any side effects?
As there is with any medication, you may feel some side effects. A small number
of people feel nauseated, have some itchiness, or have difficulty passing urine.
If any of these symptoms occur, you should notify your nurse.
We think you will like using patient controlled analgesia. It lets YOU
control your pain. After all, you know best how you feel, and PCA allows you
to give your own medicine and get relief in a faster, less painful way.
Christine Rutledge, RN
Orthopaedic Nursing Division
The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics
Iowa City, Iowa 52242