Edema is a collection of fluid within the body's interstitial space which occurs when there is an alteration of the Starling forces which control transfer of fluid from the vascular compartment to surrounding tissue spaces. Generalized edema results when altered Starling forces affect all capillary beds, such as occurs in cardiac failure, cirrhosis, and nephrotic syndrome. Common to these conditions is the development of increased total body sodium and water content. The kidneys play an essential role in the retention of this sodium and water. In this article we shall discuss the signals the kidneys receive for sodium and water retention in these edematous disorders (afferent mechanisms). We shall also examine the means by which the kidney responds to these signals and retains sodium and water (efferent mechanisms). As shall become apparent these edematous states may share many of the same afferent and efferent mechanisms for sodium and water retention.