Patient controlled analgesia (PCA)

Patient controlled analgesia (PCA)

PCA stands for patient controlled analgesia. A PCA pump is a device that allows your child to give themselves a pre-set amount of pain medicine (usually morphine), as needed, by pressing a hand-held button.

Key points to remember about PCA

  • PCA helps manage your child's pain
  • the nurse will check regularly to make sure your child is safe and comfortable

What is it?

PCA stands for patient controlled analgesia. A PCA pump is a device that allows your child to give themselves a pre-set amount of pain medicine (usually morphine), when needed, by pressing a hand-held button. Morphine is a strong pain relieving drug often used to treat moderate to severe pain. It is usually given after an operation but can sometimes be used to manage pain that results from a medical condition or injury.

How does it work?

When used after surgery, the PCA pump will be attached and started at the end of the operation when your child is in the theatre recovery room. A nurse will connect the PCA pump to your child's intravenous line (IV line). Your child will be given a hand-held button which is attached to the PCA pump. When your child pushes the button, a small amount of morphine will be delivered into their IV line automatically. If your child is not comfortable, they can push the button again. The PCA pump is computerised and programmed by the doctors and nurses before the pump is attached to your child’s IV line. This means the pump won’t give your child too much morphine and will allow only one dose of morphine every 5 to 10 minutes, even if they push the button more frequently.

How safe is it?

PCA is very safe, as long as your child is the only person to press the button. Parents, caregivers and nurses must not press the button for them.  

Who will make sure the PCA is working?

The nurse will check regularly to make sure your child is safe and comfortable. If there are any problems they will contact the specialist nurse or doctor.

Will there be any side effects?

Sometimes the morphine can make your child feel sick, itchy or sleepy. If this happens, your child will be given medication to help stop these side effects from happening. This may be pills or syrup that they can swallow or medicine through their IV line. Occasionally the specialist nurse or doctor will change the morphine to another morphine-like drug (fentanyl or oxycodone), if the side effects continue to be a problem.

Can my child become addicted to morphine?

No.

When morphine is used for a short time for pain control your child will not become addicted.

Starship Foundation and the Paediatric Society of New Zealand acknowledge the cooperation of the Starship Children’s Hospital, Auckland District Health Board in making the content on this page available to patients and families.

This page last reviewed 01 May 2015.
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