Learning About the Patient-Controlled Analgesia (PCA) Pump

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What is a PCA pump?

A patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) pump is a safe way for people in pain to give themselves pain medicine (analgesia) when they need it.

The PCA pump is a machine about the size of a shoe box. It's usually attached to a pole by your bed. The pump holds a syringe that's filled with your pain medicine.

How does it work?

Pain medicine works better when the pain first starts, before it gets too bad. Your doctor or nurse will set up a PCA pump to let you give yourself a certain amount of pain medicine if you need it. If you need more pain medicine than the PCA pump allows you to get, be sure to talk with your doctor.

Here's how the pump works:

  • Your doctor or nurse sets the pump to release the right dose of medicine from the syringe.
  • The pain medicine flows from the pump into the tubing that goes into your vein.
  • When you feel your pain starting, you press a button that you can hold in your hand.
  • After you press the button, pain medicine is released from the pump. Your doctor or nurse will have set the pump to make sure that you don't give yourself too much medicine.

Common pain medicines used in PCA pumps include hydromorphone and morphine.

When would someone use a PCA pump?

PCA pumps are most often used in the hospital after surgery. The pump allows you to give yourself pain medicine as you recover from your operation. These pumps can often be used at home.

Using a PCA pump gives you the ability to control your pain. It can also help you feel less anxious and less worried about your pain.

Because you're in charge of how much pain medicine you use, you may be able to use less medicine. That means you'll be able to move around more and feel more alert.

Can you give yourself too much pain medicine?

It would be hard to give yourself too much pain medicine. Your doctor or nurse will set the pump to give you the right dose of pain medicine at the right time. You can choose to give yourself more pain medicine. But the pump will limit how much extra medicine you can give yourself.

Sometimes family members or friends may offer to press the button on the PCA pump for you. But you are the only person who should press the button. Only you know when you need more pain medicine in your body. If you're too sleepy to press the button, you don't need more medicine.

People sometimes worry about becoming dependent on pain medicine. This is a very rare problem. Don't let concerns about dependence get in the way of pain relief. When it's time for you to stop taking pain medicine, your doctor can slowly lower your dose to avoid any problems.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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