What is the patient-controlled analgesia pump?

The patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) pump is a computerized machine that gives you medicine for pain when you press a button. In most cases, PCA pumps supply opioid pain-controlling medicines such as morphine, fentanyl and hydromorphone. The pump is attached to a thin, flexible tube (intravenous or IV line) that is placed in your vein. This medicine is usually delivered only when you press the button (bolus), but a continuous rate may be added by your doctor if needed (basal rate).

What should I know about the patient-controlled analgesia pump?

Your healthcare provider sets controls on the pump, which are programmed for the pain-relieving drug that the doctor orders based on your age, weight and type of surgery. The PCA pump is safe to use because you receive medication by pressing the button when you feel pain, but the pump won’t give you the drug if it’s not time to receive another dose yet. Remember, no one should press the button on the PCA pump except you. When the pump is empty, an alarm lets the nursing staff know.

Who might use a patient-controlled analgesia pump?

Your doctor might give you a PCA pump to use in the hospital after surgery. Pumps also can be used by people who are dealing with other kinds of pain, including cancer pain and chronic pain problems. If your pain is severe even though you are using the pump, tell a member of your healthcare team.

How often should the patient-controlled analgesia pump be used?

You can use the pump whenever you feel pain. If you’re feeling sleepy, you shouldn’t push the button. The goal of the pump is to keep your pain at a level you can tolerate.

What are the benefits of a patient-controlled analgesia pump?

People who use the pumps often have better pain control and satisfaction compared to nurse-administered boluses. People who have good pain control move around more, cutting down on the risk of blood clots after surgery and benefit from early recovery/discharge. They experience less anxiety and can relax as they feel more in control of their pain and pain medication.

What are the side effects of opioid drugs?

Some common side effects of opioid drugs for pain include:

  • Upset stomach.
  • Vomiting.
  • Nausea.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Itching.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Being unable to make a bowel movement (constipation).
  • Slowed breathing.

Less common side effects may include having stiff muscles and being more sensitive to pain. Ask your providers about any side effects that you’re worried about. They may need to change your medicine or dosage to help stop the symptoms.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/09/2021.


  • NIH National Library of Medicine. Patient-controlled analgesia in the management of postoperative pain (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17181375) , Accessed 4/30/2021.
  • Institute for Safe Medical Practices. Patient-Controlled Analgesia: Making It Safe for Patients. (https://collections.nlm.nih.gov/master/borndig/101570808/201109_94.pdf) Accessed 4/30/2021.
  • Grissinger M. Safety and patient-controlled analgesia: part 2: how to prevent errors. (http://via.ccf.org/health-library/article/Grissinger%20M.%20Safety%20and%20patient-controlled%20analgesia:%20part%202:%20how%20to%20prevent%20errors.%20P%20T.%202008;33(1%29:8-9.) P T. 2008;33(1):8-9. Accessed 4/30/2021.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy