Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell says he has Parkinson's disease

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said Monday that he was diagnosed three-and-a-half years ago with Parkinson's disease.

The 74-year-old Rendell made the announcement at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, with officials from the University of Pennsylvania, as part of a public service message to urge people who suspect they have symptoms to get diagnosed and get treatment early.

Rendell said treatment at the hospital, including medication, has stopped the progression of the symptoms and that he continues to keep a busy schedule, including working out six days a week.

Rendell said he did not want to reveal his condition before he was certain whether treatment at the hospital was helping him.

"The good news is I can say without any fear of contradiction at least in my own mind that my disease has stabilized -- progression has in many ways stopped," Rendell said. "Some of the symptoms that I was undergoing are better now than they were three-and-a-half years ago."

Now, he said, he is "more in a sort of battle mode than depressed" and that his quality of life hasn't changed, in terms of the things he enjoys, what he eats and where he goes.

Rendell, a Democrat, was Pennsylvania's two-term governor from 2003 through 2010. The outgoing former Philadelphia mayor with a larger-than-life persona smashed the state's campaign fundraising records and went from the rough-and-tumble world of Philadelphia politics to the relatively stuffy state Capitol.

He was also the Democratic National Committee chairman during the 2000 presidential election and a two-term Philadelphia mayor who garnered the nickname "America's mayor" after getting a reputation as a cheerleader for the city who would stop at nothing to promote it.

Dr. Matthew Stern, a University of Pennsylvania Health System neurologist, said the hospital is at a point where they can "significantly reduce" the effects of Parkinson's disease.

Rendell, he said, kept a schedule in May that was "ridiculous. None of us would be able to keep up."

Rendell said his mother had Parkinson's disease for the last 13 years of her life. He said he first noticed problems with his balance and his hands shaking three-and-a-half years ago, when family members urged him to get it checked out.

He was "stunned and a little bit scared," he said.

Parkinson's involves a loss of brain cells controlling movement. Besides tremors, it can cause rigid, halting walking, slowed speech and sometimes dementia. Symptoms worsen over time and can be treated with drugs, but there is no cure.

"It turns out I wasn't indestructible. None of us are," Rendell said. "But I can be helped. All of us can be."

VIDEO: Former Gov. Ed Rendell hosts press conference at Penn Medicine