Patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) is a type of pain management in which a patient is able to self-administer pain medication within predetermined limits from their healthcare provider. Using an IV that administers the pain medication, the patient can press a button and receive pain meds when they are in pain. In the case of PCA, the medication is released in smaller doses, which means it can be released more frequently. Many patients have found relief with PCA after surgeries or when experiencing chronic pain from conditions like sickle cell disease or certain cancers.

How Does PCA Work?

If your healthcare provider determines that PCA is a good option for you, they can prescribe its use. Then, the pain reliever is set up in the IV system by a healthcare worker.

Your doctor will have determined a safe dosage of the pain medication you can receive, including how much and how often. All of these precautions are necessary to prevent an accidental overdose or other complications. The pump is computer-controlled and all of these restrictions will be preprogrammed ahead of time. Additionally, while on a PCA system, you will experience the following:

Who Can Use PCA?

Patient-controlled analgesia systems can be used for anyone from age 7 and up. It can be used for acute postoperative pain management, for the treatment of painful conditions that flare up from time to time, or for the treatment of and relief from chronic pain. PCA systems may be prescribed for those struggling with the following:

  • Severe arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Cancer
  • Spinal pain
  • Pain resulting from accidents
  • Diabetes

Risks of PCA

As with any medical treatment, PCA can cause some side effects and can be deadly if used incorrectly. This is why medical professionals put safeguards in place to ensure patients don’t overuse their pain medications. Here are some of the side effects that can occur and to watch for:

  • Rash
  • Swelling at the injection site
  • Discomfort at the injection site
  • Infection
  • Catheter dislodgement
  • Medication leakage
  • Nerve damage
  • Overdose
  • Overuse
  • Death

Medications Used in PCA

Typically, intravenous morphine is the drug of choice for physicians prescribing PCA, but there are other opioid and non-opioid medications available as well. The type of medicine used is typically up to the doctor and is based on the patient’s pain tolerance, allergies, medical history, and preferences. Here are some of the types of medications used in PCA:

  • Hydromorphone- a potent opioid analgesic that provides similar pain relief to morphine, but has a faster onset and doesn’t last as long. Often, this is prescribed when morphine isn’t providing enough relief.
  • Fentanyl - synthetic opioid medication that is very potent and acts quickly. This is ideal for patients with allergies or intolerances to morphine or hydromorphone.
  • Non-opioid medications: these can include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) or acetaminophen and can be used combined with or without opioids for pain and inflammation relief.

Patient-Controlled Analgesia in the Hospice Setting

PCA is an effective option for patients in a hospice setting. It can help patients experience less pain and also eliminate waiting for pain relief since patients can utilize the PCA system to help lessen their pain on their own and immediately.

When patients are at their end-of-life stages, finding hospice care that can properly and effectively serve their needs is critical to reduce pain and ensure a smooth transition.

While patient-controlled analgesia with intravenous morphine and other medications offers significant benefits, several considerations and safety measures should be implemented:

  • Patient education - this is critical to keep patients from overusing the pain medication and to help them to know what negative symptoms to watch for
  • Safety Features - make sure patients and their families know the necessary safeguards when using PCA
  • Individualization - prescribing medications for the individual patient to make sure they get the most relief without side effects
  • Patient-Controlled Analgesia Plays a Vital Role

    PCA with intravenous morphine or other pain medications is vital in hospital and hospice settings for effective pain management. The patient is empowered to actively participate in their pain management, ensuring timely and individualized administration of their pain medications.

    With proper safety measures in place, patient education, and continuous monitoring, the use of PCA can be optimized so the risks associated can be outweighed by the benefits.

Author's Bio: 

Tess DiNapoli is an artist, freelance writer, and content strategist. She has a passion for yoga and often writes about health and wellness, but also enjoys covering the fashion industry and world of fitness.