Patient-controlled Analgesia (PCA)

Patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) is another way in which your child's healthcare team can help your child get the pain relief she needs after surgery. If you have any questions about PCA, be sure to ask your child's doctor or nurse. The more you understand about how your child's pain medication works, the better able you'll be to help your child cope.

What is it?

Patient-controlled analgesia allows children over 7 to have some control over how much medication they get. Your child's nurse fills a special machine with pain medicine and attaches a long clear tube that connects to your child's intravenous (IV) line. Also attached to the machine is a long cord with a button on the end, which your child pushes when she feels she needs medication for her pain. The machine then gives her the dose her doctor has recommended.

Your nurse or doctor will show your child how to use the PCA machine.

How does it work?

The PCA machine contains a computer. As your child pushes the button to get pain relief, the computer gives medicine through the IV line. Your child's physician prescribes the dosage of medications the machine gives your child when she pushes the button.

For example, your child may come back from surgery with a PCA pump that has been programmed to give morphine at a continuous dosage every hour. Frequently, the pump is programmed to give your child medication when she indicates she needs it by pushing a button. If your child is receiving continuous medication the day after surgery, your child's pain physician may discontinue the continuous dosage, and then your child will only receive intermittent dosages when she pushes the button.

How often can my child push the button?

Your child can push the button whenever he feels pain. Your doctor will check the number of times your child has pressed the button and may change the dose, if needed. You can't push the button for your child, but you may remind him to push the button whenever he feels pain.

Can my child get too much medication?

Your child can't get too much medication with the PCA pump. It will safely give your child only the amount her doctor has prescribed. Only someone on your child's healthcare team can adjust the pump settings, with a special key.

It's important to remember that a PCA pump isn't the same as "taking drugs." Children who have pain need medicine to help them feel better. The doctor has prescribed an amount of medication that's safe for your child.

Will it take all of my child's pain away?

No, but your child should feel comfortable. If your child feels the medicine isn't working well, even after pushing the button a few times, tell his nurse or doctor.

How long will my child need it?

When your child can take pills or liquid medicine, she won't need the PCA machine.

Next Steps