Patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) is any method of allowing a person in pain to administer their own pain relief. The infusion is programmable by the prescriber. If it is programmed and functioning as intended, the machine is unlikely to deliver an overdose of medication.
Routes of administration
The most common form of patient-controlled analgesia is self-administration of oral over-the-counter or prescription painkillers. For example, if a headache does not resolve with a small dose of an oral analgesic, more may be taken. As pain is a combination of tissue damage and emotional state, being in control means reducing the emotional component of pain.
In a hospital setting, a PCA refers to an electronically controlled infusion pump that delivers an amount of intravenous analgesic (usually an opioid) that is set by the patient. PCA can be used for both acute and chronic pain patients. It is commonly used for post-operative pain management, and for end-stage cancer patients.
Narcotics are the most common analgesics administered through PCAs. It is important for caregivers to monitor patients for the first two to twenty four hours to ensure they are using the device properly.
Patient-controlled epidural analgesia (PCEA) is a related term describing the patient-controlled administration of analgesic medicine in the epidural space, by way of intermittent boluses or infusion pumps. This can be used by women in labour, terminally ill cancer patients or to manage post-operative pain.
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