Definition of Patient Controlled Analgesia

Patient controlled analgesia (PCA) – The postoperative self-administration of intravenous (IV) pain relief (analgesic) medication.

PCA requires an IV (a thin catheter inserted into a vein), a PCA pump that contains a special syringe with the pain medication, and a PCA control button. Each time the person depresses the PCA button the PCA pump releases a certain amount of pain medication from the syringe into the IV. Most people feel pain relief within a few minutes of pressing the button.

The PCA pump can release medication only according to the amount and frequency for which it is programmed, no matter how often the person presses the button, so there is no danger of receiving too much.

An alarm on the PCA pump notifies nursing staff when the amount of medication in the syringe gets low or when there is any disruption of the pump’s proper function. The PCA pump may also be programmed to deliver a steady flow of pain relief medication, with extra medication released with the button as the person needs it to maintain comfort.

Numerous studies show that people tend to have less anxiety about postoperative pain and pain relief and use less pain relief medication with PCA. As well, appropriate pain control facilitates faster healing. Within a few days after an operation most people are able to switch to oral (by mouth) pain medications.


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