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Patient-Controlled Analgesia (PCA)

What is Patient-Controlled Analgesia (PCA)?

PCA stands for "patient-controlled analgesia," which means that the patient is in control of his / her pain medicine. It is very easy to work and understand. A push button will be available at all times for the patient to use.

When the patient begins to have pain, he / she pushes the button and a certain amount of pain medicine goes into the vein through the IV (intravenous) tubing. Since the patient is the one with the pain, only he / she is allowed to push the button.

If the patient is very young, developmentally delayed or unable to push the button, the Pain Service physician may permit the child's nurse or parents to push the button.

Frequently Asked Questions about PCA

How Safe Is PCA?

PCA is very safe. A certain amount of pain medicine is given when the patient pushes the button. The Pain Service determines the amount of pain medicine which can be taken. It is important for safety that no one push the PCA button besides the patient.

If the Pain Service physician has given you permission to use the button on behalf of your child, remember to NOT push the button if your child is asleep.

How Often Can the Button Be Pushed?

The button may be pushed whenever the patient feels pain. The PCA will deliver the medicine only at programmed intervals, which are set by the Pain Service.

What Is the Risk of Getting Too Much Medicine?

The computer is programmed to give a safe amount of pain medicine over a specific period of time. Nurses and the Pain Service will watch closely for signs of too much pain medicine. If your child is becoming very sleepy with the medicine, tell your nurse or physician.

When the Button Is Pushed, Will It Hurt?

The pain medicine is given through the patient's vein so it should not hurt. Sometimes patients feel a slight burning or warm feeling when the medicine is going in. If this bothers the patient, he / she should let the nurse or a member of the Pain Service know so this can be corrected.

How Long Does It Take for the Pain Medication to Work after the Button Is Pushed?

The patient should begin to feel better within 10 minutes after pushing the button. If the patient begins to feel better but still hurts, the button can be pushed again. If the patient does not feel better after pushing the button, let the nurse or a member of the Pain Service know.

Will My Child Get Sleepy?

Because the body is healing, rest is very important, and the PCA button will be helpful during this time. Sometimes pain medicine makes patients sleepy. If the patient feels too sleepy, the nurse or Pain Service should be told.

Will It Take Longer to Get Better When Taking Pain Medicine?

Pain medicine is necessary and important after surgery and at other times when a patient is experiencing pain, such as cancer treatment. The PCA helps patients rest comfortably. Rest helps healing. Getting out of bed and walking are also important in healing. PCA provides comfort to make it easier to get out of bed and walk.

Does Using the PCA Pump Increase the Chance of Getting Addicted to Drugs?

No. Patients who are taking an opioid medication for 10 days or longer may develop a tolerance to the medication. This means that their body has gotten used to the medication. This is different from addiction and is rare. If this occurs, we will slowly decrease the medication to avoid symptoms of withdrawal.

What Are the Potential Side Effects of the Pain Medicine?

Sometimes the pain medicine can cause nausea, itching, increased sleepiness, constipation or irritation. If any of these side effects occur, the Pain Service should be notified.


Pushing the button just before a painful activity or procedure such as coughing, walking or dressing changes will be very helpful.

Last Updated 06/2021

Reviewed By Marc Mecoli, MD

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