HEART HEALTH: Myths Vs. Facts

(NBC News) Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans, yet a new survey from the Cleveland Clinic finds three-quarters of adults in the U.S. don't think they'll die from it.

The survey of one 1,000 adults found more than half believe there is a heart disease gene that can predict whether you'll develop the condition.

Doctors say there's no gene, just a family tree.

"Having that first degree relative that has heart disease at a premature age, that really is what you've got to look out for," warns Dr. Richard Krasuski.

The survey also revealed that two-thirds of Americans know someone with heart disease, yet only a third do something to lower their risk for heart problems, like diet or exercise.

Other common myths: Vitamins can lower your risk for heart problems, which has never been proven, and we're not eating that much salt, when in fact we are.

"There's a lot of hidden sources of sodium in the diet, including things like breads, that we don't recognize," Dr. Krasuski says.

Doctors say it is imperative everyone know their numbers: Blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index, waist circumference and blood sugar.

"We use a lot of those numbers to help us risk stratify a person to say if they are low risk or high risk," explains Dr. Martha Gulati of the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center.

There's no mystery in those results. Experts say that knowledge gives patients the power to lower their risk for heart problems and avoid becoming a statistic.

Researchers say many Americans don't know exercise can cut a heart disease patient's risk of dying in half, and that quitting smoking provides an almost immediate heart benefit that only gets better with time.