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 patient-controlled analgesia

  • patient-controlled analgesia helps manage your child's pain
  • a nurse will regularly check on your child to make sure they are safe and comfortable

What is patient-controlled analgesia?

Patient-controlled analgesia is often called PCA. 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.  A doctor or nurse will usually give morphine after an operation. Sometimes morphine is also used to help manage pain from a medical condition or injury. 

How does patient-controlled analgesia work?

When used after surgery, a nurse will connect the PCA pump to your child's intravenous line (IV line). This will happen when your child is in the theatre recovery room. The nurse will give your child a hand-held button which is attached to the PCA pump. When your child pushes the button, a small amount of morphine will flow into their IV line automatically. If your child is not comfortable, they can push the button again. The doctors and nurses program the PCA pump before attaching it 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 patient-controlled analgesia?

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 patient-controlled analgesia is working?

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

Will there be any side effects from patient-controlled analgesia?

Sometimes the morphine can make your child feel sick, itchy or sleepy. If this happens, a doctor or nurse may give your child medication to help stop these side effects. 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?


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 25 June 2021.

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