://module 4 The syringe driver                                              page 2/8                                                                                                            <previous  next >

There are many situations when a syringe driver provides an effective means of delivering one or more drugs effectively to the patient with cancer pain.  The main reason for commencing a syringe driver is when the patient is unable to take medication orally. 

This may be because the patient:

  • has severe dysphagia (eg in head and neck tumours, severe weakness)
  • has severe vomiting
  • has decreased conscious level (eg cerebral metastases)

It is important to discuss the use of a syringe driver with the patient and family / carers. This may help to allay some of the fear and stigma associated with its use.  Some patients may need a syringe driver for only a short time to help deal with a specific problem. 

Some of the advantages of using a syringe driver include the continuous administration of medication - avoiding the peak and trough effect of oral analgesics.  It also allows a mixture of drugs to be given through one site (where drugs are compatible), allowing multiple symptoms to be controlled effectively. 

Some of the problems with using syringe drivers (apart from the stigma already mentioned) include the need for medical staff to change the syringe driver every 24 hours (or sooner if a change is indicated), and the possibility of a local skin reaction to the needle or infusion.

We will now look the syringe driver itself.

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Last updated September 2004