I spent my mid-20s managing my autoimmune disease. Autoimmune patients are underserved, so I started a health company to address the problem.

Ellen Rudolph of WellTheory
Ellen Rudolph founded WellTheory, a virtual care platform for autoimmune diseases, after navigating her own health journey.Ellen Rudolph/Well Theory
  • Ellen Rudolph is the 30-year-old founder of WellTheory, a platform for autoimmune care.

  • She launched the platform after spending years figuring out how to diagnose her autoimmune disease.

  • She believes that autoimmune diseases are a health crisis that demands attention.

This is an as-told-to interview with Ellen Rudolph, the founder of WellTheory. It has been condensed and edited for clarity.

When I hit my 20s, my health started to change.

I had been a pretty active kid growing up. But after college, I started holding on to more weight than usual and feeling less and less like myself.

Things took a turn for the worse when I returned from a trip to Yosemite with my dad in 2018 — I was 24 years old then. We had gone hiking and had an incredible time together. The day after I returned, though, I suddenly fainted, and I wound up in the ER. It was pretty disorienting because I didn't know what had caused me to faint. After taking a host of tests, the doctors dismissed my symptoms and sent me home with painkillers and a referral to a psychiatrist for my anxiety.

From then on, I would have these "episodes," as I called them. They began with intense bouts of fatigue and joint stiffness that impacted my ability to complete basic tasks. Eventually, my hair began to fall out, I contracted skin rashes, and I became bloated no matter what I ate. But the neurological symptoms scared me the most. I regularly struggled with blurry vision, difficulty balancing, hand tremors, and debilitating brain fog to the point where I couldn't remember friends' names or how to get back to my apartment from work.

I struggled to find a clear-cut diagnosis for my condition

I started working at a digital healthcare company a little after the Yosemite trip, and oftentimes, when I had these episodes, I'd have to take time off to go to urgent care or the ER. It was really hard to explain to my managers why I had exhausted all of my sick days, especially when I couldn't pinpoint a cause for my symptoms. Luckily, I had a pretty understanding manager who told me to prioritize my health.

I bounced between multiple medical specialists, searching for answers, but no one was able to diagnose my condition. Some specialists even dismissed me, telling me that I was too young to have these symptoms. Others told me to seek out a therapist instead. These interactions left me second-guessing myself and wondering whether my symptoms were just all in my head.

I finally found a functional medicine doctor who helped me look "under the hood" of my health. She helped me connect the dots between my symptoms and my health history.

With her, I took an antinuclear antibody (ANA) test and tested positive, which is one of the hallmark signs of autoimmune disease. I also learned that I had Lyme Disease — maybe from a tick bite at Yosemite — which can trigger autoimmune responses. I also discovered that I had hormonal imbalances and gut dysfunction from all the antibiotics I had taken as a kid. The toxic mold in my New York apartment also impacted my health. The tests I did with her showed I had antibodies that suggested I was on the road to Lupus.

This is a women's health crisis that demands attention

By 2020, when I was 25 years old, my symptoms had gotten so debilitating that I found myself completely bedridden. It was hard to make sense of it all because I had always thought my mid-twenties would be the prime of my life.

I decided to quit my job to focus on my health. Truthfully, I was also getting a little bored, and I had always had a bit of an entrepreneurial bug. Going through my lengthy diagnostic odyssey also showed me how underserved autoimmune patients were. And since 80% of autoimmune patients are women, it became clear to me that this was a women's health crisis that no one was paying attention to.

I took to social media and shared my story on TikTok. The video racked up over a million views and thousands of comments — primarily from women — who had similar experiences. That's when I realized my story wasn't unique. There were thousands of people looking for a support community.

In 2022, I launched WellTheory, a virtual care platform that offers evidence-based nutrition and lifestyle coaching to mitigate autoimmune symptoms. We provide services for individuals and businesses — embedding with their existing network of providers, carriers, and other benefits. Our goal is to identify and address the root cause of autoimmunity and provide people with holistic solutions that consider the food they put in their mouths, how they move their bodies, what their relationships look like, how they manage stress, and more.

Autoimmune diseases are invisible illnesses. You don't need to look sick to be sick, so they often fly under the radar at workplaces. We're on a mission to reverse their impact by filling in the gaps left behind by traditional healthcare.

Read the original article on Business Insider