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Using a PCA Pump

Woman lying in hospital bed with IV in arm. She is pushing button on cord attached to IV machine.

PCA (patient-controlled analgesia) allows you to push a button to receive a dose of pain medication. It is delivered through an IV (a thin tube that goes into your vein). PCA allows for a more constant level of pain relief than can be achieved when the medication is only given at the request of the patient.

PCA pumps deliver narcotics

  • Narcotics, also known as opiates, are the most common medications used to relieve post-op pain.

  • Narcotics affect pain centers at the spinal cord and in the brain. They can control even severe pain.

  • With short-term postoperative use, narcotics are not addictive.

  • Narcotics may cause side effects such as constipation, nausea, itching, headaches, and in rare cases, breathing problems.

  • Let your health care provider know if you have any side effects.

PCA pumps have safety features

  • Your nurse programs the pump according to the doctor’s instructions.

  • A safe dose of medication is delivered each time you push the PCA button.

  • Most pumps have a “lockout” time. During this time, you won’t receive a dose of medication even if you press the button.

  • You can only receive a certain amount of medication each hour. This is to reduce the chance for unwanted effects such as oversedation or breathing problems.



No one but you should push the PCA button. This includes your family or friends. If anyone but you pushes the button, you may get medication when you don’t need it. This can cause life-threatening complications. It can also keep the pain medication from working when you do need it.

You may have more than one method of pain medication delivery

  • PCA doses may be used alone or along with continuous IV pain medication.

  • When you’re relaxed, pain medications work better. Try imagining a peaceful scene to help reduce tension and pain.


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